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P.E.I.'s chief health officer says cases of H1N1 still being reported in Canada

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  • P.E.I.'s chief health officer says cases of H1N1 still being reported in Canada

    <TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD height=10>Last updated at 12:37 AM on 17/03/10 </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>

    P.E.I.'s chief health officer says cases of H1N1 still being reported in Canada

    The Guardian

    They were measuring reports by the inch at one point in the frantic days at the height of the H1N1 pandemic on P.E.I., an audience heard Tuesday from the Chief Health Officer.

    Dr. Heather Morrison was guest speaker at a University of Prince Edward Island Student Union Inspiring Alumni Speakers? Series.
    She grew up on the Island, graduated from UPEI in 1991, went on to accept a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford and obtained a medical degree from Dalhousie.

    Morrison became P.E.I.?s Chief Health Officer in 2007 and two years later was front and centre for the first pandemic in 41 years, the H1N1 crisis. She was also pregnant with her third child.

    She told the meeting on Tuesday that on her list of duties when she took the job, number 10 was to provide leadership during a public health emergency.

    ?When I took the job I didn?t think there would ever be a public health emergency,? she said.

    At one point last year, Islanders were asked to use the telephone to report flu-like symptoms and the reports were written on individual sheets of paper. So fast were the calls coming in that no staff had the time to count the stacks of paper, so they did a test to see how many reports made an inch-high stack, and estimated the number using a ruler, said Morrison.

    May 5, 2009, was the first lab-confirmed case on P.E.I., part of a worldwide pandemic that still rings warning bells. Three cases were recently reported from B.C., she told the meeting. None have been reported on P.E.I. since December.

    Pandemics are defined by how new viruses spread, not by how severe the symptoms are, said Morrison. It now appears that H1N1 somehow blocked or pushed aside the usual seasonal flu activity as no seasonal flu cases have been reported on P.E.I. and only a few cases across Canada.

    Still outstanding is a question of a third wave of H1N1. Morrison said this was the first pandemic to have a vaccine, which went out to nearly 75 per cent of Island residents.

    There was also a massive public education program promoting hand-washing and covering sneezes, control procedures at schools, hospitals and nursing homes so taking all the measures together, the spread of H1N1 might just be over for this season.

    ?We are not sure what will happen in the third wave, if there will be one,? said Morrison.

    The public education program generated some startling questions that came her way, like the person who questioned how it was possible for residents of the Island?s nudist colony to sneeze into their sleeves.

    ?I don?t know, maybe put on a shirt and sneeze into that?? said Morrison as the audience chuckled. ?I am not quite sure what to suggest sometimes.?

    While H1N1 was underway, all the other duties of the office did not come to a stand still, said Morrison. P.E.I. had a rare case of active tuberculosis at the same time, a case of meningitis, the usual reports of dog bites that required finding the dog to test for rabies, concert sites that needed inspection, restaurants that needed inspection.

    For the future, Morrison hopes to work out a deal to make seasonal flu shots free, just like the H1N1 vaccination.

    ?I am very thankful I work with such a wonderful team,? said Morrison.

    ?Thank you, UPEI, which gave me a foundation in my education and in myself. Thank you Islanders, and keep washing your hands.?

    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela