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Three major flu types and how they make you sick Add to ...

H1N1

How many deaths have there been in Canada so far this flu season? It’s impossible to know exactly how many deaths there have been. In the case of H1N1, cases have to be lab-confirmed before they are officially counted. By that measure, there have been at least five fatal cases of H1N1 in Ontario, six in Saskatchewan, one in B.C. and nine in Alberta so far this flu season. Many more people have been hospitalized across Canada.

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Should I be as worried about it now as people were in 2009 and 2010? You should always be concerned about the flu, but no, we are no longer in a pandemic situation.

Will there be an epidemic? It’s highly unlikely, for a couple of reasons. Many people have already been vaccinated against H1N1, and many have been exposed to it since 2009. The H1N1 virus is now common enough that it is considered a seasonal flu.

Does it spread easily among people? Yes. Children and younger adults are especially susceptible given their lack of immunity.

What are the symptoms? The H1N1 flu resembles regular seasonal flu symptoms. These include cough, fever, sore throat, head aches, body aches, chills, nausea, runny nose and chills.

Can you get it from eating properly handled and cooked pork? No.

How does it spread? The same way regular seasonal flus do – when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, another person making contact can contract the virus.

How prevalent is it in Canada? The H1N1 virus is widespread across Canada, accounting for more than 90 per cent of this season’s reported cases.

Is there cause for alarm? The virus can be fatal, so guard your health appropriately, but there’s little reason to panic. Still, public health officials across the country are urging everyone to get the flu shot if they haven’t already, especially young children, people over 60 and pregnant women in their second or third trimester.

How many people die as a result of the flu each year in Canada? Between 4,000 and 8,000.

Is there a vaccine? Yes. The current flu vaccine does help to protect against H1N1, although it can take up to two weeks until after a person has received the shot to achieve full protection.

H5N1

How prevalent is it in Canada? The death of an unidentified Alberta resident on Jan. 3 marked the first North American case of an H5N1 infection. The woman, who was in her 20s, had recently returned from a trip to China. Health authorities confirmed the death on Wednesday. They have stressed that the risk of H5N1 to Canadians is very low.

Does it spread easily? No. The World Health Organization notes that the virus does not currently appear to transmit among people easily and therefore “the risk of community-level spread of this virus remains low.”

Can it change? Yes. Influenza viruses are constantly undergoing genetic changes but there are no signs yet that the H5N1 virus has altered to make it spread more easily among people.

How does it spread? Almost every case of infection in humans has been linked to either close contact with infected birds, live or dead, or H5N1-contaminated environments.

Can it spread through properly prepared food? No.

How many cases have there been worldwide? From 2003 through to December, 2013, there were 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 officially reported to the World Health Organization, from 15 countries. Last year, the WHO recorded 38 cases of H5N1. Of those, 24 people died.

What about prior to 2003? There was an H5N1 outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997. But after that, (and the mass slaughter of poultry to deal with the outbreak) it wasn’t seen again until 2003.

How fatal is H5N1? The H5N1 bird flu is considered “highly pathogenic.” Approximately 60 per cent of who have been infected have died.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and cough, acute respiratory distress, abdominal pain and shortness of breath. Among the possible complications are seizures, pneumonia, respiratory failure and death. In many ways it resembles a typical seasonal flu. But unlike such a flu, it will progress to pneumonia and breathlessness.

How is H5N1 in humans treated? An antiviral medicine called oseltamivir can reduce the severity of the illness and even prevent death, according to the World Health Organization.

What is the best way to avoid H5N1 infection? Avoid contact with sick or dead poultry, according to Flu.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Healthand Human Services. The site also recommends avoiding sick people who might be infected in other countries.

Is there a vaccine for it? The seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H5N1. While experimental H5N1 vaccines have been developed by manufacturers, none has been approved in Canada.

H7N9

How prevalent is it in Canada? So far, there have been no reported cases in Canada.

What is the risk to Canadians? At this point, it’s “low,” according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Does it spread easily among people? Until recent reports from China, no human infections have been reported to the World Health Organization, and public health authorities point out there has been no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission.

So what about those reports from China? On Dec. 31, the Taipei Centers for Disease Control reported a laboratory-confirmed case of H7N9. The patient was an 86-year-old man who had travelled from Jiangsu, China, to Taiwan. Sinice then, the World Health Organization has been notified of six other cases, all of them in China. Early last year, when the virus first surfaced in humans, at least nine people were infected in China, including three who died.

Why are humans being infected now? “We do not know the answer to this question yet, because we do not know the source of exposure for these human infections,” according to the WHO. It also notes that the possibility of an animal source of the infection is being investigated.

Can it spread through properly prepared food? No.

Does Canada import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China? No.

How many cases have there been worldwide? So far, no cases have been reported outside of China.

Is H7N9 a pandemic? Currently it is not considered a pandemic, although Flu.gov notes that it is “a novel influenza virus with the potential to become a pandemic.”

How fatal is H7N9? In spring of 2013, the World Health Organization reported 132 human infections, according to the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those cases, 44 died.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath and severe pneumonia. Given how few reported cases of human infection there have been, “information is still limited about the full spectrum of illness” H7N9 might cause, the WHO notes.

Does treatment exist? While antiviral drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors can be effective against the seasonal flu and H5N1 when taken early, at the present moment, “there is little experience with the use of these drugs for the treatment of H7N9 infection,” according to the WHO.

Is one segment of the population more at risk of infection than others? Again, because so little is known about the virus, health officials do not know the risk of person to person spread.

Is there a vaccine for it? No.

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