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B.C., U.S. hit hard as pandemic's second wave arrives early

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VANCOUVER -- The "second wave" of the H1N1 pandemic is getting underway in Canada, with British Columbia reporting eight deaths as health officials grapple with a flu outbreak that is unprecedented for the province at this time of year.

Federal health officials assured the public Friday that pandemic preparations are in place, even as they warned that other provinces should expect to see an increase in the number of H1N1 cases themselves.

Ontario has already reported a spike in flu-like activity, while reports of the deaths of 11 children in the U.S. in the past week sparked fears the long-feared resurgence of the pandemic strain of the virus is underway.

"British Columbia is now well into what we might call the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic," Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said at a news conference at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control Friday.

"Compared to the rest of the country we are seeing significantly higher numbers of influenza-like illness at this time. Our rates of prescribing of antivirals have gone up to about 5,000 a week."

Kendall, joined at the news conference by federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and national public health officer Dr. David Butler-Jones, said the B.C. disease control laboratory is testing about 700 samples every day. About half are testing positive for influenza and most of those are the H1N1 strain.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there have been 80 H1N1-associated deaths recorded in the country to date.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced Friday some swine flu vaccines may be delayed because manufacturers can't produce them as quickly as hoped, but Aglukkaq and Butler-Jones were adamant all Canadians looking for H1N1 vaccinations will get them.

"We in Canada are on track to get the vaccine out the first week of November and we will continue to work to meet that timeline as agreed to with provinces and territories," Aglukkaq said.

In the United States, officials said H1N1 flu is causing widespread disease in 41 states, and about six per cent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illness -- levels not normally seen until much later in the fall.

This new strain is different from regular winter flu because it strikes the young far more than the old, and child deaths are drawing particular attention. Eighty-six children have died of H1N1 flu in the U.S. since it burst on the scene last spring -- 43 of those deaths reported in September and early October alone. the CDC says.

-- CP, with files from AP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2009 A9

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