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Health minister predicts swine flu will be a challenge in fall, wants docs' help

SASKATOON - Canada's health minister says doctors need to stand together with the federal government to face a possible swine flu resurgence this fall, but physicians say they need more help from Ottawa to prepare for the pandemic.

SASKATOON - Canada's health minister says doctors need to stand together with the federal government to face a possible swine flu resurgence this fall, but physicians say they need more help from Ottawa to prepare for the pandemic.

Leona Aglukkaq told doctors at the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting in Saskatoon that they have a key role to play in preventing the spread of the virus, in treatment and in educating patients.

"You are ... indispensable allies in our quest to minimize, as much as possible, the spread and impact of H1N1 flu virus," Aglukkaq said Monday.

"With the possibility of a stronger second wave to come in the fall, we need to maintain our vigilance. We need you to stand together with us."

Aglukkaq told doctors that Ottawa is working with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to develop a safe and effective vaccine. One is on track to be ready by November, she said.

"Many are now asking the question: 'Who gets vaccinated first?' We recognize this is a complex decision and it's one we're not taking lightly," said Aglukkaq. "We're gathering information to determine who is most affected by the virus and why. This will inform our vaccine priority planning."

But some at the meeting say Aglukkaq's speech lacked details that could help doctors and patients.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who is also a physician, said doctors need more information so they can have conversations this summer with their patients, especially those who are most at risk, such as pregnant women and people with underlying conditions.

"There are many things that need to be done and we're not hearing anything in terms of specifics from this minister," said Bennett.

"We don't hear a plan for what will happen from now until November in terms of anti-virals."

Bennett also said physicians are expressing concern that they may not be able to do their usual flu-shot clinics if they're looking after increasing numbers of sick people because of the H1N1 pandemic.

Dr. Robert Ouellet, the outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association, acknowledged that Aglukkaq's speech was short on details. He told reporters that doctors really want to see an H1N1 vaccine plan that includes who should get the vaccine first.

"We need to have that. The primary doctors, they need to have information," said Ouellet. "This is important and it will be more important to what we should do if there's a real pandemic, a real crisis during the fall."

"We're aware that there is some work on that, but she didn't say what they were doing precisely."

Ouellet said doctors will need to know what to do by early September, ahead of flu season.

There have been at least 66 swine flu-related deaths in Canada, but health officials have repeatedly said that most people with H1N1 suffer only mild illness.

Aglukkaq concedes that dealing with H1N1 will be a challenge, especially if there were a surge in cases this fall.

"What may come this fall is something that could test all of us, possibly to a limit we've never experienced," said Aglukkaq. "Whatever may come I stress that we'll best meet the challenges by co-operating."

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