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Kendall: Flu may have levelled off

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said today that H1N1 cases "may have reached a plateau" in southern and central B.C. "But we have no way to tell how long it will last."

Speaking at his daily press conference, Kendall cited a number of indicators: doctor visits, tests, Tamiflu prescriptions, and hospitalizations. Most of the numbers, he said, show signs that the rate of infection is levelling off.

Vaccination is still needed, he said, explaining that B.C. could suffer as many H1N1 cases on the downslope as it has so far. More vaccinations would also reduce the intensity of a "third wave" of infections next spring, or eliminate the third wave altogether.

Kendall said he is expecting another 250,000 doses of vaccine today. It should be available by Monday and include 118,000 doses of unadjuvanted vaccine -- "More than enough for every pregnant woman in B.C., and it can be used by others too."

A new update from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Kendall said, has slightly changed recommended doses of vaccine for children.

Infants under 6 months should not receive the vaccine. Those from 6 months to just under 3 should get two half-doses, at least 21 days apart.

Healthy children from 3 to 9 need only a half-dose of adjuvanted vaccine. Those with chronic medical conditions should get two half-doses, 21 days apart. Anyone over the age of 10, including those over 65, should receive one full dose.

Asked about the rapidly increasing costs of the vaccination program ($1.5 billion and rising), Kendall said B.C. expected the cost of the program here would be about $80 million. "We are still within that envelope," he said, adding that he is "optimistic" we can stay in it.

In general, Kendall said, the health system has handled the pandemic "pretty well." But he said electronic health records would enable healthcare workers to track the vaccination program more accurately.

He pointed out that doctors are staying current with the latest guidances by checking the Provincial Health Officer's H1N1 Site for the Physicians of B.C.

In other flu news, PHAC has posted a new update on H1N1 deaths in Canada between November 10 and 12: 1 in Manitoba, 1 in Nova Scotia, and 24 in Ontario. The national total of deaths is now 161.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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