TORONTO – A six-year-old girl from the Toronto area and two Quebecers have increased to 16 the number of Canadians to die after contracting swine flu.
Health officials were unsure Monday what role the H1N1 virus played in the Ontario girl’s death.
Authorities did not release the name of the girl, who is believed to be the youngest person in Canada with the virus to have died.
Quebec health officials released a statement late Monday afternoon to announce the two new deaths in the province. They gave no details and did not return calls.
Public health officials in Ontario said the girl showed the usual symptoms of a flu – coughing and fever – on June 14, and died the next day without having been admitted to hospital.
The coroner’s office is still investigating the cause of the six-year-old’s death, said Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
“While the H1N1 virus appears to have been a factor in the girl’s death, the exact role the virus played is under investigation by the office of the chief coroner,” King said.
“We are also investigating whether the child had any underlying medical conditions.”
Laboratory tests last Friday confirmed the young girl did have the H1N1 virus, but she was not showing any symptoms the last day she had gone to school, King said.
“We do not recommend that any schools be closed if there is a suspected or confirmed case (of swine flu),” she said.
“I encourage parents to continue to send their kids to school unless they’re feeling ill.”
Health Minister David Caplan offered his condolences to the girl’s family, friends and classmates, and said the province would continue its efforts to stay on top of the flu pandemic.
“As a father I can only imagine the difficulties they’re facing,” Caplan said. “It’s something that no parent should ever have to go through.”
“It’s also a reminder about why we need to, and indeed have, remained vigilant in monitoring the H1N1 situation.”
King said the influenza outbreak is widespread in the Greater Toronto Area, including neighbouring Peel Region, and warned there will be more illnesses and deaths from H1N1 before the pandemic is over.
“We will expect this disease to wax and wane over the next 12 months,” she said.
“It will come in waves, and there will be periods when we have more illness, more hospitalizations and very tragically, more deaths.”
Ontario reports an average of 9,000 cases of seasonal flu each year, and approximately 500 deaths, including two or three deaths of children under age 19.
“So far this year four children have died with influenza (in Ontario),” she said.
Since the swine flu outbreak started in late April, 13 other people across Canada who had the H1N1 virus have died, but most had other chronic medical conditions.
However, dozens of people remain in hospitals across the country, including about 20 in Ontario and more than 30 people showing severe symptoms who remain in intensive care units at Manitoba hospitals.
There have been more than 2,650 confirmed cases of swine flu in Ontario – and more than 5,700 across Canada – but most are considered mild with symptoms very similar to an annual seasonal flu.
Globally, H1N1 has been confirmed in nearly 45,000 people in more than 90 countries, with about 180 deaths attributed to the virus.