An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it’s not enough to fend off the flu.

According to officials with the Prairie North Regional Health Authority, the number of H1N1 cases diagnosed throughout the province this year has risen significantly compared to years past. While the health region could not provide exact numbers, the chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital did confirm the increase, noting new cases are being treated locally on an almost daily basis.

Dr. Gavin Van de Venter also said efforts are being undertaken by the health region to prevent the illness from reaching epidemic proportions. Although this is somewhat reassuring, the faintest possibility of an H1N1 outbreak remains frightening enough. Sure, there may not be any flu-related deaths to report in Meadow Lake, but it’s unwise to fully disregard such a tragic possibility, particularly when it comes to the very young, the elderly and anyone else struggling with any kind of immune deficiency.

H1N1 is a contagious respiratory disease that causes symptoms similar to those of seasonal influenza. Much like any other strain of flu, common symptoms of H1N1 include body aches, chills, coughing, fatigue, fever, headache, loss of appetite and sore throat, as well as possible vomiting and diarrhea. In other words, it’s no walk in the park and certainly not something you’d wish on your worst enemy.

That’s why it’s essential everyone does whatever it takes to prevent the spread of H1N1 – or any form of flu bug for that matter. Common sense solutions, of course, include such preventative measures as coughing into your sleeve, regularly washing your hands and avoiding others while feeling under the weather.

The best solution, however, is to simply stop the illness dead in its tracks by visiting the hospital, clinic or one of the pharmacies in town and getting your annual flu shot. It may seem a little late considering how far along flu season is, but shots will continue to be offered until the end of March for adults and until the end of April for children.

It’s ridiculous how, in this day and age, there are still people who either stubbornly or out of sheer ignorance believe vaccines are either ineffective or unsafe. According to a national poll conducted last fall, 54 per cent of Canadians admitted they were unlikely to get the flu shot this season with 83 per cent of these same people claiming limit effectiveness of the vaccine as the reason why.

In reality, the flu vaccine is one of the best proven methods of keeping certain viruses at bay. Unlike the 1918 flu pandemic that saw 500 million people world-wide infected by the virus known today as H1N1, medicine has advanced to the point where such outbreaks are now controllable if not entirely avoidable. Now, it’s simply a matter of figuring out how to advance certain people’s belief systems.