01/24/2014 12:49 EST | Updated 03/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Flu Deaths In Saskatchewan Hit 16, Surpass Pandemic Year

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REGINA - The number of flu-related deaths in Saskatchewan is up to 16 from 12, surpassing the number of people who died in the 2009 pandemic.

Fifteen people died in Saskatchewan during that H1N1 outbreak.

Dr. Denise Werker, the province's deputy medical health officer, says there have been more than 1,100 lab confirmed cases of flu this year and 57 people have been admitted to intensive care.

"What we are seeing is an incredible toll this season in terms of influenza and that is related most likely to the H1N1 virus, the strain that is circulating this season," she said Friday.

There's an unusual shift in the people affected, Werker added.

"What's interesting in terms of the admissions and deaths is that men are two times more likely to have been admitted to intensive care and to die as compared to women," she said.

"And that risk is not experienced in the laboratory confirmations where we have a ratio that's 50-50 between men and women. For some reason, men seem to be more at risk for being admitted to hospital with severe illness and also to die."

Werker said there is no concrete evidence as to why men are dying more than women. She speculates that it might be because men are less likely to get vaccinated or could be more genetically predisposed. There is always the question of an underlying health condition as well.

Werker noted that none of the 16 people who died were vaccinated. About 75 per cent of them had other health issues.

The people who were admitted to intensive care or who died range in age from under one to 86 years old. The average age is mid-50s, she said.

The doctor said she is puzzled to see the numbers in Saskatchewan, because other provinces don't seem to be having the same experience. But that might just be because Saskatchewan is more timely in reporting cases than other jurisdictions, she suggested.

The flu season has probably peaked in Saskatchewan overall, Werker said, but she cautioned that influenza is just beginning to take off in the northern part of the province.

"My concern is that we have just peaked and that we may get more deaths on the other side of the slope," she said.

"We have an enormous opportunity to prevent more deaths by people getting vaccinated. During pandemic, our vaccine coverage rates were 50 per cent.

"We have not achieved that this season."

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