Public health officials say more B.C. residents have likely died of H1N1 flu this month than the official count of five lab-confirmed deaths so far.
Four of the confirmed H1N1 deaths were on Vancouver Island, while the fifth was in the Interior and there are none officially listed in the Lower Mainland.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, there are 49 patients hospitalized in intensive care units with severe influenza as of Jan. 17.
Sixteen of them are in the Fraser Health region and 10 are on Vancouver Island.
But officials say those numbers of deaths understate the true scope of the H1N1 flu fatalities because patients hospitalized with flu-like symptoms – even those who die – are not generally lab tested for a final confirmation of influenza type.
“Most deaths from influenza will probably not have influenza identified,” said Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
As a result, she said it’s “not a meaningful exercise” to focus on the number of deaths or hospitalizations as that can give a false impression that influenza is less severe.
Based on national averages, the CDC estimates there are up to 520 influenza-related hospital deaths in B.C. in a normal flu season each year.
H1N1 makes up more than 80 per cent of flu cases in B.C. so far this year.
Many pharmacies have run out of vaccine after a late scramble to get immunized.
The province says nearly 1.4 million British Columbians have been vaccinated so far and the “unprecedented demand” has led to temporary gaps in supply.
More vaccine is on order and will be distributed across the province – 5,000 more doses are to arrive during the week of Jan. 21, another 3,000 are expected the week after and the province has requested a further 13,000 doses.
“We’re getting near the end of the influenza immunization campaign, so we won’t have vaccine in every location,” Gustafson said.
She said flu season can continue through March, so late season vaccinations can still help ward off serious illness.