Five deaths related to influenza have taken place across the province in the last week, says Alberta Health Services.
“We’ve seen people of all ages, whether they were healthy or not, being affected. Some of them severely, and some of them dying,” said Dr. Martin Lavoie, the province’s acting chief medical officer of health, speaking at a news conference about the flu season on Thursday.
Five people have now died from the flu in the province, with one youth and one senior from Calgary also dying from the illness. Health officials are not releasing the exact ages of the victims or the dates of their deaths for confidentiality reasons.
Dr. Gerry Predy, Senior Medical Officer of Health, said flu season was later than usual but has now arrived, with the number of people hospitalized from flu rising from 30 to 80 in about a week. There have now been 283 confirmed cases of flu in Alberta, with 84 people hospitalized, and the five deaths.
“We are in the early stages of this outbreak, and it’s not too late for people to get their vaccines,” said Predy. “That’s the key message we want to get out today.”
It’s a much different picture from three weeks ago, when health officials reported a milder start to the flu season, with only 77 cases of influenza confirmed across the province and no deaths.
While the flu poses the greatest risks to vulnerable people — such as infants, the elderly and the chronically ill — Lavoie said healthy people can also get seriously sick, and even die.
“It’s a serious illness, it causes people to get very sick. It kills people. And it’s preventable,” Predy said. “People always talk about, ‘What can we do to prevent things?’ Well, here’s a preventable disease that people aren’t taking advantage of a preventive measure.”
Lavoie said some people may believe the vaccine is “not worth it,” or are waiting to see how the season goes. He also blamed misinformation that circulates on the Internet for spreading misconceptions about the vaccine.
Four of the people who have died this year had not been vaccinated, and one of the victims, a child, had received only the first part of the two-phase vaccine given to children under nine. About one million people have received the flu vaccine in Alberta this year.
The province purchased over two millions doses of influenza vaccine and so far just over one million doses have been administered.
Influenza immunization is free to all Albertans, six months of age and older.