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Flu straining hospital ERs

Numbers starting to peak: official

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A flu outbreak during the past two weeks is putting a strain on Winnipeg hospital emergency departments.

Dr. Michael Routledge, chief provincial public health officer, said Wednesday it looks as though Manitoba is in for a "normal to slightly busier than normal" flu season.

"The numbers have just in the last week or two started to peak," he said.

The province issued a statement Wednesday encouraging Manitobans to get the flu shot as flu cases rose nationally. It said the number of reported laboratory-confirmed cases continues to rise rapidly and has likely not peaked.

"One message I'd like everybody to hear is that if you haven't had your influenza vaccine it's not too late to do that," Routledge said.

Heidi Graham, a spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said traffic at hospital ERs has risen sharply in recent days, with many visitors complaining of flu symptoms.

About 800 patients a day have visited the city's six emergency departments (not including Children's Hospital). At times that number has spiked to close to 1,000 visits. The ERs were seeing an average of 600 patients a day during October and November, Graham said.

"All our hospitals have seen increased activity but the ones that are traditionally the busiest (Health Sciences Centre, Seven Oaks and St. Boniface) remain the busiest," she said in an email.

The flu season appears to have begun earlier this year and is packing a bigger punch across North America than in recent years.

The Canadian Press reported Wednesday hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary struggled to keep up with a spike in cases. Emergency rooms have also been swamped in Montreal and Quebec City. And the city of Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday due to a massive flu outbreak.

In Manitoba, for the week of Dec. 23 to 29, there were 21 cases of influenza A and two cases of influenza B reported, the province said in its bulletin. The vast majority of cases are unreported.

Routledge said the province has confirmed a number of influenza outbreaks at personal care homes -- but so far the situation is not out of normal for a "moderate flu season."

Manitoba is also experiencing a high rate of respiratory syncitial virus, which has added to pressures on hospitals.

Meanwhile, Health Canada is working with Roche Canada and the provincial and territorial health authorities to address a potential temporary shortage of the antiviral flu drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

Tamiflu is an antiviral given to individuals ill with flu or who may come into contact with other people who have confirmed cases of flu. Manitoba has an adequate supply, the province said in a release.

Meanwhile, Graham said the Winnipeg health region is reminding the public that if they feel they need to go to an emergency department, they should, but to remember there are alternatives such as their family physician, the two Winnipeg QuickCare Clinics, Misericordia's Urgent Care and walk-in clinics. If they need advice, they can always call HealthLinks - Info Santé (204-788-8200).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 A6


Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:30 AM CST: replaces photos, adds fact box

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