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Flu starting to appear on Vancouver Island

FREE FACE MASKS, hand sanitizer dispensers and signs reminding visitors to use them, are located throughout St. Joseph
FREE FACE MASKS, hand sanitizer dispensers and signs reminding visitors to use them, are located throughout St. Joseph's General Hospital. Now, like hospital employees, hospital visitors who haven't had their influenza vaccine must wear a mask.
— image credit: Renee Andor

The first handful of this season's confirmed influenza cases have shown up on Vancouver Island.

North Island medical health officer Charmaine Enns says influenza cases on Vancouver Island have so far been sporadic and, as of last week, no outbreaks had been reported.

"It is on the Island but in really low numbers," says Enns. "It's still really early in the game … so it's really hard to predict (what this year's flu season will be like) at this point."

Enns says the most effective means to fight influenza is the vaccine, and the vaccine campaign has gone "very well" so far.

"We have distributed more vaccine in the first six weeks of our campaign than we did the whole season last year," she continues.

The vaccine is designed to protect against influenza strains predicted to show up in a particular flu season; getting the shot does not protect against the common cold or other viruses with flu-like symptoms. While influenza can keep a healthy person in bed for a week, it can cause severe health complications and death for those at-risk, such as the elderly, very young or those with underlying health conditions.

Last year's controversial policy — making it mandatory for health-care workers to get a flu shot or wear a mask on the job — was upheld by a Labour Relations Board arbitrator earlier this month. Added this year, visitors to health-care facilities must adhere to the same policy.

St. Joseph's General Hospital president and CEO Jane Murphy says 80 per cent of the hospital's full-time and regular staff had been vaccinated as of last week. When casual staff are included, the total staff vaccination rate is about 73 per cent.

She adds the general public has been receptive to the new policy, which is implemented on an honour system, rather than being strictly enforced.

"Of course, this is new, so it's education and making it easy for people to be in compliance with the policy, so having signage and masks readily available (is important)," says Murphy. "We're finding as people understand that this policy's really designed to provide protection to our patients and residents … that the public is really quite supportive.

"They're often in here visiting a loved one and they want the best for their loved one, and really seem to understand and want to follow the policy."

Visitors to health-care facilities are among those on a long list of people eligible for a free influenza vaccination. Information about who is eligible for a free vaccine and how to get vaccinated is available at www.viha.ca.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

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