The H1N1 Flu Virus
While the second wave of H1N1 is tapering off, it remains important to maintain personal infection control practices, as the H1N1 virus and seasonal flu virus are still circulating in the population. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), case numbers are down largely because of the due diligence that each Canadian has taken. Across Canada, approximately 45 per cent of the population has received the H1N1 flu shot, protecting themselves and those around them. Also, people continue to cough and/or sneeze into their sleeve, wash/sanitize their hands frequently, and have stayed home when ill. These actions have helped minimize the impact of this virus.
For more in-depth information on H1N1, visit FluWatch. They report weekly on the extent and severity of the outbreak, any unusual cases or clusters of illness, uncharacteristic patterns of health care use (e.g. sudden increase in emergency room use), antiviral resistance and any significant illness trends within communities.
Access FluWatch by going to http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/fluwatch/index-eng.php.
PHAC recently released the H1N1 Preparedness Guide. This resource is designed to provide Canadians with information about the H1N1 flu virus, steps they can take to protect themselves, and information on how to take care of themselves and family members if they become sick. The guide can be accessed online here: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/alert-alerte/h1n1/guide/index-eng.php and/or a copy can be downloaded for print here: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/alert-alerte/h1n1/guide/pdf/h1n1_guide-eng.pdf.
What is the H1N1 Flu Virus?
The H1N1 flu virus is a respiratory illness, causing symptoms similar (for the most part) to those of the regular human seasonal flu. Symptoms include fever and cough with one or more of the following: sore throat, muscle aches, joint pain or fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea may also be common among children age 5 and under. Please note that among children and the elderly fever may not be the most prominent symptom. While not a symptom, some cases of the virus have resulted in severe respiratory illness
The virus is contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. Infected individuals who cough or sneeze cause germs to be deposited in the air and on common surfaces, where they can pose risk to others.
Most cases of the H1N1 flu virus have occurred among those age 25 and under. However, the most severe cases of this virus have been noted among people with pre-existing chronic health conditions such as respiratory illnesses, especially asthma; cardiovascular disease; diabetes and immune disorders. Pregnant women and young children are also at risk.
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What Can You Do?
The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising that Canadians continue to take normal precautions to protect themselves as they would from seasonal flu:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer
- Cough and sneeze on your upper arm/sleeve or into a facial tissue directly. Dispose of tissue directly after and sanitize or wash hands immediately.
- Stay home if you are sick or exhibit any flu-like symptoms
- Report any serious flu-like symptoms to your doctor
- Get your annual flu shot
Some other precautions you may want to take:
- Wash/sanitize your hands before and after eating, sneezing, blowing your nose, coughing, going to the bathroom, using public transit, or touching common surfaces (doorknobs, handles, etc.)
- If you are not feeling well, stay home and avoid crowded areas
- Avoid touching your face and mouth
- Try to avoid shaking hands
- Practice good infection control in the workplace, at home and in social settings
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What to Do If You Get Sick
If you have flu symptoms and are otherwise healthy, you should stay home to recover. However, if you begin to feel worse, experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.
For otherwise healthy individuals who have mild flu symptoms:
- Stay at home from work, school and crowds
- Get plenty of rest and fluids
- Sneeze and cough into your upper sleeve and if you use a tissue to cover your sneeze/cough, dispose of it immediately afterwards and wash/sanitize your hands thoroughly
- To protect family members disinfect common surfaces after use
- Cover your nose and mouth if you have to travel somewhere like your doctor's office
- Contact your doctor before visiting their office to inform them of your symptoms and listen to the instructions they give you. If you are unable to contact your doctor inform the medical staff of your symptoms as soon as you arrive at the office.
- Avoid any direct contact with others and practice social distancing, keep at least a 1 meter distance between yourself and others
Children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, or people with existing chronic illness, who experience flu symptoms, should contact a health care provider as soon as possible. Antiviral medications may be prescribed to treat flu symptoms in people who are at risk of moderate to severe illness. Antiviral drugs are most effective if administered within the first 24-48 hours from when symptoms appear at a physician's discretion.
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The H1N1 Vaccine
Three types of the H1N1 vaccine have been distributed across Canada:
- Arepanrix (adjuvanted H1N1 flu vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline)
- Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Pandemic Monovalent Vaccine (without adjuvant from GlaxoSmithKline)
- Panvax (unadjuvanted H1N1 flu vaccine from CSL Australia)
These vaccines have been approved by Health Canada. This means that each vaccine has been declared safe for administration. Minister Leona Aglukkaq continues to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others. To ensure vaccine safety, Health Canada, PHAC, the provinces and territories are working jointly to monitor for any adverse events related to the vaccine.
According to PHAC, an adverse event is any unexpected reaction to a medication, in this case, a vaccine. Most adverse events are not serious and may include soreness, swelling or redness at the injection site, fever, rash, headache or muscle aches. Serious adverse events are those that are considered to be life-threatening, result in death, require hospitalization, prolong an existing hospitalization or result in disability. Serious adverse events from vaccines are very rare, and account for about 1 case for every 100,000 doses distributed.
The main monitoring system for vaccine safety is the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System (CAEFISS). CAEFISS is made up of a network of health professionals who report adverse events to their provincial/territorial public health authority, which then shares the information with PHAC.
CAEFISS is supported by additional projects to provide more detailed data, specifically related to the H1N1 flu vaccine. These include a network of teaching hospitals specializing in child health, an adult hospital admissions monitoring system and a network that tracks new illness incidence among specific groups of people such as the aboriginal community.
To learn more about CAEFISS or the monitoring system for adverse reactions, access the following links:
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More Information on the H1N1 Flu Virus
Public Health Agency of Canada
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
You can also contact the Public Health Agency of Canada for more information on the H1N1 flu virus at 1-800-454-8302.
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Infection Control While Travelling
Although the Public Health Agency of Canada has lifted the travel warnings regarding the H1N1 flu virus, taking proper measures to protect yourself while abroad remains important. Good personal infection control practices should still be in place to avoid contracting the illness while travelling to or from other countries. Influenza prevention precautions are provided above. As an additional preventive measure, consider getting the H1N1 vaccinebefore you leave Canada. Also, contact the embassy or consulate of the country to which you are travelling to find out if they require proof of H1N1 vaccination to enter the country.
If you are planning to travel or are returning home, you should monitor the government website for your home country and the country you are going to or coming from. Several countries have issued advisories or advice about traveling to some of the regions affected by the H1N1 flu. You should check with any related government about travel warnings or restrictions that may affect your travel.
For more information on Canadian travel advisories, warnings, as well as traveller handouts and safety tips, see the resources listed below.
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Government Travel Advisories
Public Health Agency of Canada Travel Health Notices
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
US Department of State
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
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How Does This Affect My Travel Insurance?
Most travel insurance policies will cover expenses related to H1N1. Travel insurance policies usually have clauses related to travel advisories issued by the government of the country where your travel insurance company operates. In the case of Canadian insurance products, this means advisories issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).
Travel advisories may be issued in the case of severe local outbreaks, such as Mexico in Spring 2009. That advisory was lifted last May and should no longer affect your insurance coverage.
Stay current on the advisories issued by government authorities and how they affect your coverage. If you are not sure how an advisory might affect your coverage, feel free to call us or email us for help.
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Updated March 3, 2010