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THE first suspected flu death this season is under review as the number of people on ventilators with a severe respiratory illness rises in city intensive care units.
Manitoba's chief medical officer, Dr. Joel Kettner, said officials are investigating whether the second wave of H1N1 influenza has killed a Manitoban. He would not confirm when or where the person died, or the person's age or gender.
The news comes as the number of people sick with a severe respiratory illness surges -- a total of 20 people have been hospitalized in intensive care for a severe respiratory illness since Oct. 8, including one confirmed case of H1N1. There are currently 14 patients on ventilators in intensive care.
Health officials say most, if not all, suspected cases are likely due to H1N1 and an investigation is underway to see how many sick patients received the vaccine before they fell severely ill.
Kettner said it can take up to two weeks before the body develops an immunity to H1N1 after receiving the vaccine, so people who were vaccinated last week aren't instantly protected. He urged anyone on the priority list who hasn't received the vaccine to get in line and get the shot as soon as possible.
"A large number of these people, their illness began too soon to be expected to have benefited from the vaccine, even if they were vaccinated," Kettner said. "You're not immediately protected when you get the shot. You're protected in a week or two."
Kettner said most of the people who are severely ill are among those considered high risk and on the priority list to receive the vaccine.
Nearly half of the people on ventilators were aboriginal, Kettner said, and four patients with severe illness were under 18. One pregnant woman, a child under six months and one school-aged child were also among those on ventilators.
Kettner said the school-aged child had health conditions that put the child at high risk of severe illness.
It's a similar scenario to what happened when the first severe wave of H1N1 hit last spring, Kettner said.
"Many, if not most, will turn out to be H1N1 because these are cases that do not have an alternative diagnosis yet," Kettner said.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority chief executive officer Dr. Brian Postl said city hospitals are seeing more children with relatively mild flu symptoms and that physicians are prescribing antivirals such as Tamiflu to prevent the illness from worsening.
Most of the 66 lab-confirmed H1N1 cases reported across Manitoba are mild and did not require hospitalization.
Kettner said anyone on the priority list with fever, cough and other symptoms such as fatigue or sore throat should not delay seeking medical attention. He said it's too early to say what the flu will do, but that H1N1 could potentially be more severe than it was last spring when seven Manitobans died and 38 people were on ventilators at the peak.
"This fall and winter could be way worse," he said.
The province received another shipment of vaccine doses on Wednesday, and expects to receive another shipment next Wednesday.
Provincial officials will not say when the priority list will be revised to include more Manitobans.
Flu clinics for those on the list will continue on Friday at 12 city locations between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
That list includes: people under 65 with a chronic medical condition or other risk factors, including obesity and alcoholism, anyone with a weakened immune system or those who live with and care for them, disadvantaged individuals, people who live in remote or isolated areas, single parents, pregnant women and people who live with or care for infants under six months.
Meanwhile, across Canada, hospital admissions, intensive-care unit transfers and deaths from H1N1 are three times higher this week than last, says Canada's chief public health officer.
Dr. David Butler-Jones said the H1N1 virus is surging across the country, with the western provinces, the territories and Newfoundland and Labrador hit particularly hard.
"We expect to hear of more illness and deaths in the coming weeks as we go further into the second wave," Butler-Jones said Thursday.
Butler-Jones says overall flu activity is still below its peak during the virus's first wave in June, but he expects to surpass that spring high point within a few weeks.
"We're now, as of last week, we were below the peak weeks of June," he said.
"Now we're catching up. So we're not quite there yet, but over the next few weeks we're going to see perhaps what we saw in June.
"By then, I'm hoping that we'll have sufficient people immunized that we can slow this down."
-- With files from Canadian Press