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Alberta woman Canada's first H1N1-related death Add to ...

Two weeks ago Saturday, Tina L'Hirondelle was having trouble breathing and drove herself to a hospital in High Prairie, a mill town in northern Alberta.

She never left - the 39-year-old woman, who had a history of asthma and diabetes, died on April 28.

However, it took until Friday for provincial health officials to confirm publicly that her death was Canada's first linked with influenza A/H1N1 virus.

They might never have made the connection. However, Ms. L'Hirondelle's mother, Mabel, was confirmed with a mild case of the illness on Tuesday, which prompted authorities to track down all of her recent contacts.

Neither woman has a prior connection to Mexico, which is where the virus originated, and medical investigators are still trying to figure out how they caught it and whether it caused Ms. L'Hirondelle's death.

"There were a number of pre-existing medical conditions that actually even at the time the physicians that were taking care of her didn't even think about flu as a possibility," André Corriveau, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told reporters.

On Thursday night, tests on tissues taken during an autopsy of the young woman confirmed the presence of the virus.

There have been 47 confirmed deaths around the world connected to swine flu.

Ms. L'Hirondelle hailed from Gift Lake, a remote Métis settlement about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. However, in recent weeks, the single woman had been living with her mother at a motel in High Prairie while they searched for an apartment, according to the motel's manager who didn't want to be identified.

The province has flown nurses to Gift Lake to dispense treatment to those who need it and to provide advice to the community of 1,000 about the virulent flu.

Ms. L'Hirondelle's mother had attended a wake and funeral for her daughter in Gift Lake earlier this week. Hundreds of people attended both services.

Anybody who had contact with the deceased woman and who contracted the virus would likely have symptoms by now. Officials said they know of no new cases in the region.

Ken Shaw, a Gift Lake resident, attended Ms. L'Hirondelle's wake on May 3. He said when word spread around the community that her mother was diagnosed this week with swine flu, there "was a little bit of panic." However, he said health officials have addressed those concerns.

Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services, said officials won't know until next week at the earliest if Ms. L'Hirondelle died from the virus or from complications from her existing chronic medical issues.

The number of confirmed cases of influenza A/H1N1 has risen to 242 in Canada, an increase of 28 since Thursday.

To date, there have been 2,500 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu strain in 25 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Sylvie Briand, acting director of the global influenza program at the World Health Organization, said those who are falling seriously ill or dying of the virus are predominantly previously healthy young people who deteriorated rapidly and died of pneumonia and those with chronic underlying conditions such as diabetes, tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease.

Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said scientists noted about one-third of those hospitalized with severe swine flu in the United States had asthma.

Health officials said people shouldn't let their guard down. The pandemic threat remains high.

Oscar Mujica, a senior analyst with the Pan-American Health Organization, said Friday that the Draconian measures taken by the Mexican government to close businesses and schools have dramatically curtailed the spread of swine flu.

According to his analysis, the measures have prevented more than 8,000 deaths and 30,000 hospitalizations.

With a report from André Picard in Montreal

 

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