Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

H1N1 cases hit 119 in Manitoba

Manitoba Health insists it's ready to handle even more flu cases

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The number of confirmed H1N1 flu cases in Manitoba jumped by 42 Friday, bringing the total to 119 laboratory-confirmed cases, provincial health officials said.

Two-thirds of those cases are aboriginal with 17 coming from northern Manitoba, the hardest-hit area of the province in the flu outbreak.

"This isn't unexpected," acting chief provincial public health officer Dr. Elise Weiss said. "It confirms, basically, what we knew before, that the virus is present throughout the province.

"We certainly expect to see more cases. We don't know how long this is going to continue, but we're certainly prepared for it.

Jan Currie, vice-president and chief nursing officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said of the 119 cases, 31 patients are in hospital being treated for severe respiratory illness. No health care workers have become severely ill.

Currie also said officials will monitor the number of new cases over the weekend to determine if elective surgeries should be cancelled next week to free up resources.

She also said the current hospital system is satisfactorily handling the outbreak and the number of people being admitted. Two Winnipeg hospitals, the Health Sciences Centre and Seven Oaks General Hospital, will open as flu clinics should the number of people becoming sick increase sharply.

"We wouldn't be opening those clinics unless we had a need beyond our normal services or a need to hand out antivirals in large quantities," Currie said.

She added about 25 per cent of visits to Winnipeg emergency rooms are flu related, with only the most severely ill being tested for H1N1 so as to not put strain on resources.

The majority of people in Manitoba who become ill will not require hospitalization.

Health officials also said there is no public health reason at this point to close schools, community centres or other public gathering places or to avoid travel to any community. That includes communities like St. Theresa Point, which has been hit hard by the virus.

They also said wearing surgical masks does little good for the public.

"Mask use is really indicated for health care workers, if you're within two metres of an individual where there might be risk of coughing and sneezing and then breathing it in," Weiss said. "The same thing might go if you're caring for a family member at home. You may want to consider a mask in that instance.

"Otherwise, there's no public health reason for masks for the general public."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2009 A4

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