‘Epidemic’ threatens 700-people hospitalizations, hundreds of deaths in Quebec

What started out as a small-scale flu outbreak in Quebec has morphed into a major outbreak that has reached “epidemic” proportions, according to authorities.

It has reached so bad that thousands of doses of Tamiflu, one of the only available treatments, were quickly exhausted in a desperate effort to deal with the rapidly growing outbreaks, with hospitalizations quickly reaching 700.

Although the outbreak reached its peak in Quebec City on Friday, the situation remains bad and authorities are hoping the World Health Organization will come down with a statement making it clear that the pandemic still doesn’t exist.

The latest case count by Quebec’s public health department rose past 700 people sickened, Canada’s CBC News reported on Monday. Other than flu-related deaths, 468 people were hospitalized, and 137 health workers have been affected, making it the most serious outbreak in Canada in decades.

The outbreak continues to evolve, with the number of new cases rising each day, says Jonathan Genest, the chief of epidemiology at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Even though Quebec City is still over the worst, and we are relieved, [these numbers] do not take into account that cases are continuing to show up in northern parts of Quebec, in the same places where they first appeared,” Genest told CBC News on Sunday.

The sudden spike in flu cases has been put down to two main factors: one is that the elderly are catching it more often, and the other is because children are at an especially high risk for dying from the flu.

“Since the [recently] arrived last week, we have had more new cases in areas with a higher percentage of poor, older patients, where more people are present with influenza-like symptoms,” Genest added.

Dr. Samantha Imrie, a medical epidemiologist for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said on Saturday that the flu has hit the island hard, leaving hospital beds filled up.

“It’s going to get worse because the available treatment in the hospital beds and classrooms for children is being used up,” Imrie said.

In addition to increasing the need for treatment, poor demographics have been affecting the strain as well. More elderly patients are increasingly being taken to Montreal hospitals, while most of the children have been hospitalized in Laval, even though the north-central and southern parts of the province have seen the most cases.

“That’s because more children are present with flu symptoms,” Genest said.

Montreal’s hospitals have been battling the flu each day with the help of Tamiflu, which is given in pill form or an intravenous infusion, and is the only drug, according to Quebec’s public health department, that can significantly reduce the risk of death.

But the drug, an inhaled one-fifth the strength of oral flu medications, is not easily taken by children, and some health authorities fear it may have even caused deaths.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is using a combination of behavioral and diagnostic techniques to track down potential sufferers, plus hospital and home-care visits to offer appropriate treatment. There is also a vaccine being tested which Genest said is “more optimal than any other.”

“This virus has been evolving with us as a result of human-to-human transmission in the nursing home environment,” he said.

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