There could be third wave of H1N1 infection in B.C. but the province’s chief medical health officer thinks the chances of that happening are “diminishing.”
While there will be one final report next week, Dr. Perry Kendall and Ida Chong, the Minister for Healthy Living and Sport, gave the media their last comprehensive update Thursday on the influenza pandemic that turned out to be less deadly than expected.
Chong thanked everyone in the health sector for fighting the disease.
“These are people that rose to the occasion,” said Chong.
Kendall, while repeatedly stressing the need for continuing vaccinations, was optimistic about the flu fight being over for now.
“I personally feel the risk of a third wave is diminishing,” said Kendall, who nonetheless hedged his bets.
“Influenza is unpredictable,” he said.
If the disease was to come back, “it would occur a couple of months after the last wave,” said Kendall.
The peak of the second wave came in the last week of October.
There are usually 400 to 800 deaths associated with the flu annually in the province, mostly in the elderly.
There were just 55 deaths positively linked to H1N1 but the disease differed from typical flu bugs in that it affected younger people.
Kendall guessed about 25 per cent of the province was actually infected with H1N1 but the effects were less severe than other strains and there was also a significant distribution of anti-viral drugs to treat the illness.
There have not been any severe H1N1 cases reported since Jan. 19 and since April 2009 the total of severe cases was 1,032.
B.C. is prepared if there is another wave of H1N1.
The province ordered 4.2 million doses of the vaccine, enough to cover the entire population.
An exact total of how many doses were administered was not available but Kendall said approximately 38 to 40 per cent of the province was vaccinated.
The rate was below the Canadian average of 45 per cent but much better than many other countries such as Australia (25 per cent), the U.S. (20 per cent), Japan (12 per cent) and the U.K. (seven per cent).
The immunization rate in B.C. was much higher among First Nations, according to Kendall and ranged from 71 per cent to 140 per cent on one reserve where people came from outside the area to receive the vaccine.
About 750,000 doses have been loaned to Mexico and will be replaced when that country’s production ramps up.
Another 500,000 doses are at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and another 250,000 are distributed around the province.
Unless there is a greater supply of vaccine for the next pandemic, Kendall said the distribution plan would again target the most at-risk first.
But he also believes there needs to be better “queue management.”
“We need to be able to deliver it more efficiently or more conveniently,” he said.
The provincial government set the budget for the entire H1N1 program in B.C. at $80 million. That total includes everything from the vaccine to clinics to paying for doctors to take calls about the flu and has not been exceeded.