As Albertans prepare to roll up their sleeves for H1N1 flu vaccines, one local school is already feeling the pinch.
The vaccine will be available across the province in mass clinics starting Monday and locally at Grandin mall, but the shots are likely too late for students at Ecole Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d'Youville (ESSMY).
About 33 per cent of students at the French immersion school have been absent this week, likely related to an outbreak of the H1N1 flu.
David Keohane, chair of the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board, said the absences are well above normal, but no cause for alarm. "We haven't had an increase beyond that 33 per cent for about three days now so it seems to be holding."
He said contrary to media reports Friday, he has no intention of closing the school. The board's existing policy would call for closure with this many students ill, but public health authorities have advised him to keep the school open.
Dr. Marcia Johnson, acting medical officer of health for the Edmonton area, said they are tracking about 15 outbreaks in schools they suspect are H1N1 related.
"Right now the vast majority of influenza strains that are circulating in Alberta and the Edmonton zone specifically are the H1N1 strain."
She said there is no confirmation the outbreaks are H1N1, but given the prevalence of the bug, they likely are.
"Our laboratories simply can't keep up with the demand of testing every person so we are reserving those for the instances when people are really ill."
Symptoms of H1N1 are usually very minor and Johnson said for most people it is more of an inconvenience than anything else.
"You will feel rotten for a couple of days, but most people will get better with some rest and fluids and something for your fever, aches and pains."
Keohane said the school is listening to health officials, advising sick children to stay home and stepping up cleaning protocols. He said Legal School has a 10 per cent absentee rate, but all of the board's other schools seem fine.
Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta Health Services' Senior Medical Officer of Health, said the school outbreaks are in line with what health officials expected.
"When influenza hits a community, it usually hits schools and school age children first."
ESSMY isn't alone. The St. Albert Minor Hockey Association has also seen a slight decline in their bench strength.
"We have had a couple of teams that have experienced five or six players out and it seems there is a bit of a flu sweeping through the dressing rooms," said association president Brian McConkey.
He said the association has switched to glove taps instead of handshakes, stepped up cleaning of equipment and told coaches and parents that sick players should stay home.
Get the shot
After getting final approval to administer the H1N1 vaccine from Health Canada on Thursday the province will be administering the shots starting Monday at large public vaccination clinics.
Dr. André Corriveau, Alberta's chief medical officer of health is hoping everyone will get the shot.
"I urge all Albertans to get this vaccine not only to protect themselves, but to protect those around them who might be at higher risk."
He said the vaccine is entirely safe.
"The experience so far, that the side effect profile is very good and the safety is not a major concern."