SASKATOON - The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says Canadians need to be better educated about flu symptoms ahead of a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus this fall.
Dr. Ann Doig says the pandemic is "front of mind" for physicians, who are in Saskatoon for their annual meeting. She says there is a lot of information available to doctors through local health regions, but the public needs to be given more as flu season approaches.
"Inevitably with something like this, there is a panic," says Doig, who has been practising family medicine in Saskatoon for 30 years.
"It's no different than in the summertime when we always see people who think they might have Lyme disease or think they might have West Nile. And really, when you listen to their description of their symptoms, very, very frequently the symptoms that they're worried about have absolutely nothing to do with the disease that they've identified as being their concern," she says.
"The same is true for the flu. We don't want people to be given misinformation about influenza."
As of last Wednesday, the number of deaths officially associated with the swine flu virus in Canada stood at more than 60, although health officials say most people with H1N1 suffer only mild illness.
Late last month, the Public Health Agency of Canada released new guidelines for front-line health workers to help contain and prevent the spread of H1N1.
The recommendations include such measures as removing toys and magazines from waiting rooms, screening for swine flu during 911 calls and keeping emergency room patients in separate rooms if they exhibit respiratory symptoms.
Doig, who officially becomes the medical association president this Wednesday, says there needs to be a "clearly articulated" public education program so patients can make informed decisions around such things as going to work or going to school.
The information also needs to make it clear about when people should seek medical attention and where they should go, she says.
There are concerns that doctors' offices could be overwhelmed.
"The crunch is going to come when we start seeing the influx of patients who either do have or think they have symptoms of the H1N1 flu," says Doig.
"I think my biggest wish list as a primary practitioner would be to say I really want to see good information going out ... to patients to say, 'This is the definition of influenza. Here are the symptoms that might lead you to think that you have influenza. Here are the things you should consider when making a decision about contacting a health professional for either treatment or advice."'
"What I don't want to see is my office inundated with people who actually don't have symptoms of flu but think they have."