H1N1 flu total climbs to 34 in Canada, including first case in Quebec
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 30, 2009 7:22PM EDT
Canadian officials announced a torrent of new confirmed swine flu cases Thursday but maintained the symptoms are mild and the new numbers were anticipated.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured the public that governments around the world are working together on the issue, even as Canada's caseload almost doubled to 34 with 15 new confirmations, including the first in Quebec.
"Thankfully, all cases in Canada continue to be mild," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told a news conference in Ottawa.
"I repeat again these new cases were anticipated and do not affect our approach."
One notable change in approach, however, was announced Thursday.
Harper presaged the move when he alluded to the outbreak as the "Mexican flu" during a news conference in Toronto Thursday.
Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, later told reporters in the capital that the virus will no longer be referred to as swine flu, but instead will be called the H1N1 flu virus.
Butler-Jones said the change is being made "to make it very clear that this disease is not spread from pigs or from either pork or pork products."
Harper plans to visit a Saskatchewan farm on Friday, where that point will likely be driven home.
Pork producers have taken a beating as consumers -- and some foreign governments -- have reacted irrationally to the spreading swine flu.
So far, officials are tracing most cases of the virus to travellers to Mexico, although eight Canadian cases in all were not recent travellers to the country. Health officials are keeping a keen watch for what may be secondary infections as a signal to whether the virus is becoming established in the human population.
"In Canada now, within the school setting, possibly we're at sort of third generation or so -- that is a person infecting another infecting another," Butler-Jones said.
Quebec health officials said Thursday the province's first confirmed case is a person from the Montreal area who was in Mexico recently and is now at home with a mild case of the flu.
Of the 15 new cases reported Thursday, five were in B.C., four in Alberta, four in Nova Scotia, one in Ontario and one in Quebec.
They are all considered mild.
But wary health officials in B.C. closed an elementary school in the Okanagan after a student was diagnosed with a mild case of the swine flu. Officials said it was a precaution to keep the virus from spreading to the other 500 students at the French immersion school.
With the threat level of a global flu pandemic raised to five on a scale of six Wednesday, one step short of a full pandemic, the prime minister attempted to calm public fears during his appearance in Toronto.
"People should rest assured that governments around the world are responding to this in an appropriate and co-ordinated way," said Harper.
"And I speak not just of the federal government and its provincial counterparts, but governments across the world are co-ordinating their actions and co-ordinating them with international health authorities, and I believe we are doing what is necessary at the moment."
Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert also sought to calm the furor over the H1N1 virus Thursday when asked if the province has any plans other than daily briefings to keep the public from overreacting.
"Other than trying to communicate to folks like you (the media) that 'Live life normally,"' Liepert said.
"There are no other plans. We have got a plan in place. We have got our officials working. Things are under control. So anything that goes beyond that is basically hype and rumour."
Liepert said Alberta has no plans yet to stop crowds from gathering at sporting events, festivals and the upcoming tourism season.
"It is different than Mexico City where they have decided where they won't have fans at soccer games," he said.
"But Mexico City is in the heart of where this influenza has developed. We are in a very different situation than that."
Liepert said people should not overreact to the few cases in Alberta: "Live your life normal . . . we are talking about six Albertans out of 3.5 million Albertans."
Alberta's four new cases involve young adults from Calgary who recently returned from a trip to Mexico, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the province's medical health officer.
"They came back and had a mild course of illness and were managed at home and are all recovering," Corriveau said Thursday in Edmonton.
The four have been advised to stay home for a week -- the period when people are infectious, Corriveau said.
Meanwhile, the new cases in Nova Scotia are related to an original cluster of four cases among students at a private boarding school in Windsor.
"We do expect to continue to see new cases," said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health.
Strang said only one of the students who has contracted a confirmed case of the virus has been to Mexico.
"It has then spread through the larger population of the school," he said.