Middle-aged children and adults are suffering from the H1N1 flu virus this year, according to public health officials.
"We are definitely seeing the H1N1 virus in adults and children this year," said Dr. Dee Hoyano, a medical health officer at Island Health. "And H1N1 has a tendency to affect middle-aged adults more than other forms of the flu."
Older adults have the flu, but this year Island Health is seeing more middle-aged adults going to the hospital with her.
Normally, a relatively healthy middle-aged adult would not need to be hospitalized because of the flu, Hoyano said.
Island Health also handled serious pediatric cases of influenza, she said. As of Wednesday, there were 52 reported cases of H1N1 in children 18 years or younger – about a quarter of the 197 laboratory-confirmed cases.
"Children get the flu, but those who are getting it, we are seeing more because they are more seriously ill than last year," Hoyano said.
The doctor was not aware of any death, but said that some children were treated at the intensive care unit.
Most cases of influenza on Vancouver Island have been the H1N1 strain, Hoyano said. There are also some cases of H3N2 influenza, a particularly difficult strain in older adults.
"Often, we see more than one flu strain throughout the winter season," she said. "We start with one, and gradually, when you enter the new year, you often see a different tension dominating. But for the peak we had in December and January, it was the H1N1. "
H1N1 is in a category similar to the virus that caused the swine flu pandemic 10 years ago. But health officials are not as concerned as they were back then.
The 2008 swine flu pandemic was a completely new influenza virus, Hoyano said.
"Because it has already occurred for 10 years, it has become one of our regular flu viruses," she said.
"It's not a very different variety of what we saw last year or the year before.
"I always worry about the flu in general, but this is not something drastically different or as unpredictable as a pandemic flu."
The virus changes a little each year. That's why people can get the flu every year and that's why the vaccine changes every year, Hoyano said.
"Basically, we're trying to keep track of what's the latest and most common virus."
In an H3N2 flu season, the average age of hospitalized patients is close to 80. The average age of this year is 60 years, Hoyano said.
The H3N2 strain hits older people hard because they are already vulnerable.
"They can get very sick and there may be deaths because of complications," Hoyano said.
It is important for people who have underlying health problems, particularly heart or lung disease or a low immune system, to be aware that the flu can be bad – and that it can get very bad quickly, she said.
Handwashing is extremely important in disease prevention.
"The other thing we're seeing right now is the norovirus winter vomiting bug," Hoyano said. "And vigorous handwashing definitely helps avoid that."
Norovirus is very easily transmitted by touch.
"The most common way is someone to vomit or have diarrhea somewhere and touch and eat something," Hoyano said.
"A droplet on the wall will spread the virus."
The doctor said she realizes that it is getting harder for people to stay home when they are sick but stressed that it is important that people have time to recover.
"Maybe it's like a New Year's resolution: first take care to be productive and contribute."
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