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This article was published 2/9/2009 (2850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Canada can claim victory over the looming pandemic if fewer people die from H1N1 than from ordinary seasonal flu, Canada's top public health officer said Wednesday.
Dr. David Butler-Jones, head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said between 2,000 and 8,000 people die every year from seasonal flu -- which sends normally healthy Canadians to bed sick for a few days, but often kills elderly or chronically ill people.
H1N1 is more likely to prey on young, seemingly healthy people.
If Canada's pandemic plan and widespread vaccination program works as it should, Butler-Jones said he hopes the H1N1 flu that's expected to hit again this fall takes fewer lives than a regular flu would. He said vaccination blitzes and public awareness campaigns could become the norm and help prevent deaths from seasonal flu in years to come.
"Even those deaths are not necessary," Butler-Jones said. "The lessons we learn from the pandemic, the simple things we're doing, can prevent future deaths."
About 100 Manitobans die every year from seasonal flu. So far, seven have died from the H1N1 virus.
Butler-Jones is leading a two-day conference in Winnipeg that brings together 150 doctors and public health officials from across Canada to share scientific information, best practices for patient care and shortfalls in pandemic planning.
Critics have questioned why the United States, Australia and other European countries will start doling out H1N1 shots in mid-October, while Canadians will have to wait until mid-November.
Butler-Jones and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq offered repeated assurances Wednesday a vaccine will be ready in time for the worst of the looming H1N1 flu season.
"There have been reports implying that Canada has been slow off the mark in placing its H1N1 vaccine order, that our production schedule is not sufficiently aggressive or that our regulators are being overly cautious. Those reports are simply wrong," Aglukkaq said.
Butler-Jones said it's also wrong to say the addition of an adjuvant -- a chemical to boost supply that isn't normally added to Canadian flu shots -- will hold up the vaccine.
At best, about a third of Canadians get annual flu shots. Butler-Jones wouldn't define Canada's pandemic vaccination target or say how many Canadians need immunizations in order for the health system to cope effectively with serious patients.
But he urged Canadians to get both flu shots -- one for the old-fashioned flu and one for H1N1.
It's possible the H1N1 virus will eclipse seasonal flu -- that's what happened in Chile -- but two separate illnesses could end up raging at the same time.
Butler-Jones said there is just no way to tell, which is why Canada is producing the regular seasonal vaccines first and then speeding ahead with the H1N1 shots.
Canadians who got sick with H1N1 this spring -- more than 10,000 cases have been confirmed -- are immune, but an H1N1 flu shot won't hurt someone who has already had the disease.
-- With file from Canwest News Service