Flu outbreaks come and go, but danger still present

Plenty of vaccines still available around Capital Region

Medical clinics and Vancouver Island hospitals are having a tough time keeping up with the rapidly increasing number of people suffering a severe strain of flu.

“It’s been very busy in the last couple of weeks,” said Dr. Murray Fyfe, Vancouver Island Health Authority chief medical health officer.

And it’s getting worse, especially among the elderly, he said. “We’re seeing more and more influenza in the community.”

Older people, especially those with existing medical conditions, are particularly susceptible to this year’s strain, called A-H3N2, which leaves them sicker than other strains, he said.

Two Capital Region long-term health care facilities, including Mt. Tolmie Hospital in Saanich, were hit with severe outbreaks around Christmas, but have since returned to normal. Infected patients were treated with Tamiflu, which weakens the illness and shortens its duration, Fyfe said. During the outbreaks, no new patients were admitted, visits were restricted and outside activities were cancelled.

A check with Mt. Tolmie medical staff found there were no deaths attributed to the flu or the medical complications it causes.

However, Fyfe said it is not uncommon for older patients to die from flu complications, and he expects the number of flu deaths this season on Vancouver Island to surpass 200, the approximate yearly average.

As for flu-related hospital admissions, they are on the increase. It’s expected that more than 400 patients will be admitted by the time the annual flu season tapers off around the end of February.

Fyfe said A-H3N2 is included in included in this year’s vaccine. And because VIHA expected this year’s outbreak to be worse than the H1NI pandemic scare two years ago, there’s a lot of vaccine available.

Nurses have so far immunized about 33,000 people and another 165,000-plus doses have been distributed to doctors and drug stores. Many pharmacists are now licensed to administer the vaccine.

Those who haven’t yet been immunized should get to it quickly, because the vaccine takes takes up to two weeks to fully kick in, Fyfe said.

So far there have been no major flu outbreaks at schools, but Fyfe warns that could still change.

As well, several respiratory, cold-like viruses that mimic flu symptoms are going around and can’t be treated by any vaccine.

editor@oakbaynews.com

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