Alberta health officials confirm H1N1 flu contributed to woman's death
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 8, 2009 6:14PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 10:51PM EDT
EDMONTON - Health officials have confirmed that swine flu contributed to the death of a northern Alberta woman -- the first person in Canada to die after contracting the illness.
The woman, in her 30s, had other chronic health conditions, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the province's chief medical health officer. They were originally blamed for her death on April 28.
"At the time, the physicians taking care of her didn't even think about flu as a possibility," Corriveau said Friday.
But when an older relative of the woman developed mild flu-like symptoms and tested positive for the H1N1 virus, officials went back and looked at the case of the woman who had died.
Tissue samples were taken Wednesday and, by late Thursday afternoon, Corriveau and other senior health officials knew she had a mild case of swine flu when she died.
The woman had no history of travel to Mexico, where the outbreak began, and there was no evidence she'd had contact with anyone who'd been there. It appears she passed the virus along to the relative who tested positive, but officials say there is no way to tell for sure.
Dr. Gerry Predy, a senior medical officer of health, said more may be known about her case after the final pathology report is finished next week.
Several hundred people who attended the woman's funeral are being closely monitored. Nurses have been dispatched to the undisclosed northern community and a temporary clinic has been set up to assess individuals with symptoms.
Anyone with severe symptoms would get antiviral medication. As of Thursday, two people had tested positive for swine flu.
Corriveau said the woman's relatively young age is not a concern for health officials because she had other medical conditions, putting her at increased risk of serious consequences from influenza. He noted that every year about 4,000 Canadians die of the flu and a high percentage of them have an existing condition that puts them at increased risk.
"It's something that happens usually in vulnerable people whatever age they might be," he said. "I don't think the age is much relevant here. It's really the cluster of underlying conditions that would make somebody vulnerable."
He also conceded that public health experts are still piecing together a puzzle of information about this flu strain.
"It's basically telling us one more time that we don't seem to be facing a novel virus that is behaving out of the normal. But we're going to have to pool our data on a continental basis with those in Mexico and those in the United States to get the big picture," Corriveau said.
Rumours had already begun to swirl about the woman's death in the days leading up to Friday's announcement, and several media reported Thursday that officials were investigating a possible swine flu link. Alberta Health Services had refused to comment on the reports.
Corriveau defended the province's handling of the case, saying it had to wait for tests that came back late Thursday afternoon to confirm what may have already suspected.
"Even though there were rumours in the community, and obviously people were sort of suggesting that there might be an association, there was no way possible for me to report on the fact that we had a confirmed case. I only got that confirmation late in the afternoon."
A total of 44 people have died of the flu strain in Mexico and two in the U.S.
There are 233 confirmed cases of the outbreak in Canada.
Alberta confirmed nine new cases Friday, including the woman who died, for a total of 42.
A girl who was treated for a more severe case of the flu in an Edmonton-area hospital is well on her way to recovery and is expected to be discharged soon, Corriveau said.
There's been controversy about the fact that health officials haven't revealed which school the girl attended, but Predy said that's a judgment call they're leaving to school principals.
Nova Scotia confirmed three more cases Friday, bringing its total to 56. British Columbia had six new cases for a total of 60. Prince Edward Island added one new case for a total of three. Nearly all of the cases in Canada have been mild.
Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the three territories, haven't officially reported any cases.