The number of people who’ve had to be hospitalized with the flu doubled this year, according the Island Health officials.
Dr. Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer for Central Island, said that although more people are being treated in hospitals it doesn’t necessarily translate to a tougher strain of the bug.
"Influenza is a problem every year. I like to think that it’s a virus with a bit of a personality. Each year, we’re trying to find out what that personality looks like.
"This year we’re seeing a lot of people that are older and perhaps have some medical conditions who are being kind of really whacked out by the influenza for a few days," he said.
That would include a big chunk of the Valley’s population, given the demographic.
"Its not just the Cowichan Valley, but right across the Island," Hasselback said. "Those individuals are having a tough time coping within their own living environment.
"So, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hospitalizations this year, certainly," Hasselback said.
"It’s been double over last year but much less in terms of severe outcomes so not the use of the intensive care unit or deaths. There are some; it’s influenza. But it’s not necessarily as severe."
Because an older group of people have been affected the community can help to respond.
"If you know somebody in the community that’s older, now is a good time to check on them and provide some additional support if they do happen to get sick. It doesn’t mean that they have to end up in hospital," Hasselback said.
So far, younger people have escaped the worst of it.
"I have to stress that we’re in the early days," he cautioned. "Students have been out of school for the last few weeks when the first real waves of influenza hit. They’ve just gone back into school and students are great transmitters of illness and bugs. I don’t think we’ve seen what the impact is on students yet."
This flu season has been "pretty typical" as regards timing, hitting strongly in mid-December through to mid-or late-January, he added.
No hospitals or care homes in the Cowichan Valley have been badly hit.
"Yet. But things can change quickly. We post a list on our website," Hasselback said.
See http://www.viha.ca/mho/public_ health_alerts/active_outbreak_list.htm for facilities in your area.
Hasselback urged anyone who’s thinking of visiting a relative or friend in a care facility to think carefully.
"This is a time when you don’t want to share your germs. If you’re ill, please stay away. You may be the cause of an outbreak," he said.
"If you do go, watch for signs posted," Hasselback continued. "They will put them up if necessary. We may also ask individuals to limit their visitations to one person or immediate family members. Oftentimes, we’ll get people who’ll go visit multiple rooms and that’s how it spreads within the facility."
Island Health requires that anyone visiting a long term care facility be immunized or if they are not, they should wear a mask once they come in the door.
"The best way to prevent an outbreak of flu is to get immunized," Hasselback said.
But there have been recent reports about this year’s vaccine being a bad fit for this year’s virus.
"Certainly, there’s been a lot of rhetoric about it. People talk about a mismatch and I really don’t like that word. Influenza survives by changing itself so it can re-infect the same people years after years. That’s its survival mechanism," Hasselback said.
"I kind of liken it to a makeover. We provide in the vaccine a picture of what the virus should look like. But if that virus has had a makeover, depending on how extensive the makeover is, some of the people will recognize it, some people will not," he said.
So the vaccine may not be as effective as in an ideal year but it may well provide protection and "it is the best thing we have to offer in advance at the moment," he concluded.