Number of cases of a rare strain of virus at near-record high in U.S. Northeast

By Peter West, Infectious Diseases Writer:

WINNIPEG, Man. – The number of cases of the rare herpes virus h1N1 that’s been sweeping through the northeastern United States remains high in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as the total number of cases are now over 1,000, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday.

The agency confirmed that New Brunswick reported 211 cases of h1N1 between Jan. 1 and July 30, and that Nova Scotia had 106 cases since Jan. 1. The outbreak in New Brunswick has caused seven deaths, while in Nova Scotia two have died.

“Certainly, it has been very high in New Brunswick. We do not have any indications as to whether it is sub-determined or is continuing to climb,” Rick Remillard, director of public health for New Brunswick, told a news conference.

Still, he added, New Brunswick remains far down from its high in 2009, which was 32 cases. Nova Scotia is much higher at 346 cases, although Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said the total in the province is “about where it has been the last couple of years.”

Remillard said that as of July 30, officials have ordered almost 600 cases of h1N1 to be quarantined and removed from the public. People have been quarantined for multiple days, sometimes more than 30, for whom vaccination was not possible due to weakened immune systems, such as older people and those with certain chronic illnesses.

Public Health Canada said 38 percent of the New Brunswick cases and 46 percent of the Nova Scotia cases were caused by different strains of H1N1, which started showing up in the United States last spring and, eventually, throughout the world.

So far, there have been only 35 deaths from the virus globally, including five from the United States, according to the agency.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and stiff neck. It can also make a person drowsy or cause difficulty breathing.

The virus, which also causes dengue fever and other flu-like illnesses, is particularly troubling in the United States, since it is transmissible person-to-person and people can have no symptoms, Remillard said.

He said neither health agencies nor local residents expect that the number of cases will decline anytime soon.

“We are anticipating these communities to be impacted by this virus for several months to come,” Remillard said.

The outbreak in Canada began in December 2009 when an 11-year-old boy contracted the virus on a visit to visit family in New Brunswick.

The most recent official tally in the United States was 995 cases, but a health ministry official said that count, conducted by public health in southern California, does not yet include cases in the Buffalo, New York; and Salt Lake City, Utah, areas.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Couilhan in Halifax.

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