INFLUENZA BUG HITTING SOUTH OKANAGAN, BUT LOCAL SCHOOLS, SENIORS FACILITY STILL AVOIDING OUTBREAK
Influenza cases are becoming more widespread in British Columbia, but as of yet there has not been a major outbreak in Osoyoos.
Public health officials, however, are encouraging people who have not yet been vaccinated to do so right away, especially those in high-risk groups.
“It’s hit the Okanagan, as across B.C., to a greater extent than the average over the last 10 years,” said Dr. Peter Barss, public health specialist and medical health officer with Interior Health Authority.
The good news, says Barss, is that this year’s vaccine seems to be working well in controlling the type of virus that is prevalent this year.
Local schools told the OsoyoosTimes early this week they have not yet seen any signs of a flu outbreak among students.
Nor has Mariposa Gardens experienced cases among its senior residents, even though seniors are considered one of the groups at risk.
In a weekly report on influenza activity across Canada issued Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada now reports “widespread activity” in two health regions of B.C. – Fraser and Vancouver Island.
The rest of the province, including the Interior Region where Osoyoos is located, is still listed as “localized activity” based on surveillance between December 30 and January 5.
Nonetheless, the latest report shows much wider spread of the flu across Canada than was occurring in mid to late December when only a few pockets of Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland were experiencing “widespread” flu activity.
“It’s not really possible to predict with certainty, but it seems to be building,” said Barss. “So I would expect it will continue on in the next few weeks at least, probably into February. That’s why we’re recommending people be immunized, because we don’t expect it to just suddenly disappear.”
Although Barss was unable to provide any figures for the South Okanagan when interviewed Monday, he said that in the central Okanagan there were 31 cases confirmed in laboratories to be influenza during the first 11 days of January.
Many more people, however, have contracted the virus, but not been tested, he added.
Local schools report some student absences due to illnesses, but say it’s only been what’s normal at this time of year.
“We have had nothing unusual since the break,” said Shendah Benoit, vice principal at Osoyoos Elementary School.
The school has just been continuing with the usual best practices of encouraging children to wash their hands, she said.
At Osoyoos Secondary School, vice principal Shannon Miller says there have only been the usual student absences for illness.
“I wouldn’t say we have more kids away than would be normal,” she said, also saying students are reminded about hand washing and not sharing drinks.
Staff at OSS had the option to be vaccinated at the school, and many took advantage of it, although she doesn’t know how many students have been vaccinated.
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Sandra Shaw, director of care at Mariposa Gardens, adding that an in-house flu clinic was held on November 5. Hand washing is also emphasized on a regular basis, she said.
This year’s flu is predominantly Type A, with H3N2 being the most common, but with cases of H1N1 also being reported. Years when H3N2 predominates tend to be worse because it hits the elderly especially hard.
Other vulnerable groups who may experience complications include those with respiratory ailments, children under age five, those with other chronic health problems and healthy pregnant women.
In B.C., vaccinations are available free to seniors, those with chronic conditions and other at-risk groups, as well as to health care workers.
Those not eligible for free vaccinations may purchase the shots, which are available at public health units, from many family physicians and at pharmacies.
Both Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmasave in Osoyoos are selling the influenze vaccine and have staff available to give vaccinations.
Health officials encourage people to be vaccinated between October and December before flu season hits since it can take two weeks after vaccination for it to provide a person with full protection.
With the illness spreading rapidly at this time of the year, however, and more weeks of flu likely remaining, the Public Health Agency of Canada is sending the message: “It’s not too late to get the flu shot!”