Although influenza activity continues to increase across B.C., the Northern Health region is not seeing a particularly unusual influenza outbreak season so far.
Since the beginning of December, there have been four influenza outbreaks in Northern Health long-term care facilities.
“These outbreaks are not unexpected given it is influenza season and those outbreaks have not been particularly severe,” said Eryn Collins, a spokesperson for Northern Health.
“When we have an outbreak in a facility, we increase our infection control measures and precautions and we communicate with patients, residents, staff, visitors and families of residents through direct contact and signage in the facilities,” she added.
So far there has been one death associated with influenza as a result of these outbreaks. Collins says this is also not unexpected.
“The flu claims a number of lives in the province every year, and the elderly are one group that is at higher risk of complication from the flu,” she explained.
When it comes to predominant strains, both the A (H3N2) and influenza B – a less severe strain which tends to target children – are circulating across B.C. this season.
“It is somewhat unusual to be seeing the B strain this early in the season,” said Collins.
When it comes to the effectiveness of this season’s vaccine, Collins says it’s too early to determine how effective the flu vaccine has been so far. However, she points out that this season’s vaccine is the same as last year’s.
Last year the flu vaccine was found to be very effective against the B strain, with a 73 per cent risk reduction, but only moderately effective against the A (H3N2) strain, with a 37 per cent risk reduction.
Collins says data regarding the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine is expected to be released later in the season.
In addition to influenza, the Northern Health region is seeing a significant number of gastrointestinal illnesses such as the norovirus this season.
“That has been the source of a number of outbreaks across the region as well,” said Collins. “That is another illness that can be more of a risk for people who are very young, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.”
She adds that severe dehydration is the most common complication risk associated with this type of illness.
Northern Health is urging residents experiencing gastrointestinal illnesses to stay away from work or school until two days after they feel better since they can still spread the virus after their symptoms are gone.
People who are in high-risk groups, or people who could spread influenza to those vulnerable groups, are still being encouraged to get their influenza shot.
“It’s not too late,” said Collins. “Vaccines are still available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies.”
Northern Health also advises people who feel sick to avoid visiting long-term care facilities.
In addition, all visitors to Northern Health facilities who have not received their annual flu shot are being asked to wear a surgical mask.