H1N1 flu virus found at Bethune K+S potash camp

By Lasia Kretzel
January 28, 2016 - 8:56am

There is at least one confirmed hospitalized case of H1N1 in a worker at the K+S Potash mine in Bethune and a second worker is in the hospital waiting for test results.

“In the last 24 hours we have confirmed a hospitalized flu case of H1N1 and there are other cases in the hospital awaiting laboratory confirmation,” Dr. Maurice Hennink, deputy medical health officer for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR), explained on Wednesday.

He says there has been an increase in positive tests for influenza across southern Saskatchewan, and H1N1 appears to be the dominant influenza strain this year.

The H1N1 strain of flu has been present in the province every year since the outbreak in 2009, but the H3N2 strain was more dominant in the past two years. Hennink said the H1N1 virus is covered by this year’s flu vaccine.

“We have had these two particular cases hospitalized and associated with the K+S mine, who themselves are reporting respiratory cases, some of which are H1N1,” Hennink explained.

The Legacy Project camp is located near the mine just south of Bethune and can house up to 1,470 workers at one time.

Hennink was not aware of the specific details of the living situation for the two hospitalized workers. He did note that any type of virus or bacteria will spread more quickly in a dormitory setting.

Colin Braithwaite is the vice president of health, safety and security for K+S Potash. He says it came to the company’s attention on Tuesday night that there were five reported possible cases of influenza in Bethune. He says the company is working with the health region to get the confirmations on the other possible cases.

“Right now we are working at separating an area within our camp at the mine site, where employees that have flu-like symptoms will be able to go to if they need to and aren’t able to travel home safely,” Braithwaite said.

He said influenza is one of several common illnesses in the population of workers at the mine. Privacy and confidentiality concerns prevent the company from revealing any information about where the people who are sick now worked or how many people they may have come in contact with.

“Definitely from a precautionary perspective and prevention perspective, we are obviously working with all our employees to take precautions for frequent handwashing, ensuring if they are sick they’re staying home,” Braithwaite said. “We are going to be providing (Thursday), a second vaccination clinic for all our employees and workers at the site for getting immunized for that flu virus.”

A worker at the mine, who asked not to be identified, told News Talk Radio there are dozens of people with flu symptoms who are still working. He said a lot of people are talking about it but expressed concern that the company is not providing much information about the risk or procedures.

H1N1 symptoms include fever, running nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headaches, coughing and tiredness. The virus is highly contagious.


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