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January 8, 2004
For immediate release

Recent Nursing Home Deaths Remain Unconfirmed as Caused by Influenza

Health and Social Services

The Department of Health and Social Services is responding to many inquiries regarding influenza-like illnesses, particularly with regard to whether or not recent deaths at a nursing home in the province were influenza related.

Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr. Mitchell Zelman today stated that the Department does not know whether any of these deaths have any relationship with influenza until there are confirmed lab results. "We are still waiting for conclusive results from a Halifax virology laboratory," Dr. Zelman stated. "Lab specimens tested for viral illnesses are sent to Halifax, and results can take up to one week to process."

"We know that the flu virus has arrived on the Island. In December, this office received lab confirmation of cases of influenza in the province," said Dr. Zelman. "However, to date, we have not received confirmation of influenza virus in a nursing home in PEI."

Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Various strains of the flu virus circulate throughout the world year round causing local outbreaks. In Canada, flu season usually runs from November through April with an estimated 10 to 15 percent of Canadians getting the flu each year. The flu causes an estimated 500 to 1,500 deaths in Canada yearly, affecting mostly seniors and mainly due to complications of pneumonia related to the flu.

For the majority of people, flu is a mild self-limited illness. However, the complications from influenza such as pneumonia can be life threatening to some people, especially those who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions. Those at greater risk are very young children, people over 65 years of age, and anyone with a medical condition such as chronic respiratory disease such as asthma, emphysema, heart or kidney disease, diabetes or a suppressed immune system.

"There is often confusion between a stomach illness (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) and influenza, which is commonly referred to as the flu," said Dr. Zelman. "Influenza symptoms include sudden high fever, headache, loss of appetite, severe muscle aches and pain, extreme fatigue and weakness, chills, dry cough, sweating; and sometimes sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Influenza can leave a person bedridden for five to 10 days and could lead to pneumonia or bronchitis."

The flu virus spreads easily and quickly through droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by someone who has the flu. The flu virus is also found on the hands of people with the flu and on the surfaces they come into contact with. To prevent the flu from spreading, Dr. Zelman emphasizes the importance of proper and frequent hand washing, staying at home if you have the flu, and covering the mouth when coughing followed by proper hand washing.

Prevention is the best method of controlling the flu. The province still has a large supply of flu vaccine in stock, and Health Regions and some physicians continue to hold clinics or have it available in their offices.

Media Contact: Anne-Marie Smith
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