Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall gets his annual flu shot. Influenza vaccines are still available. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Hospitals, care homes struggle with influenza

Call your doctor or 8-1-1 for nurse advice before going to emergency

B.C. health care facilities are struggling with peak influenza season, with outbreaks at residential care homes across the province and an influx of emergency room visits from people battling cough, fever and fatigue.

Public health officials urge people suffering from the flu to avoid spreading the viral infection if possible, and if they need medical treatment to visit doctors’ offices or walk-in clinics.

Visitors are also being urged to stay away from residential care facilities if they have respiratory symptoms, or the diarrhea and nausea associated with Norovirus or similar gastro-intestinal infections.

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said most people with influenza should contact their doctors or call the B.C. HealthLink line at 8-1-1 for advice before they head for the hospital.

“Trying to avoid the emergency rooms is good because you don’t really want to spread influenza among vulnerable people or health care workers if you can avoid it,” Kendall said.

Anti-viral drugs can be prescribed for people with underlying heart or respiratory illnesses, and they should arrange that in advance, even if they’ve had the seasonal flu shot, Kendall said.

Most healthy people will recover at home with rest and drinking plenty of fluids.

While hospitals and residential care facilities are coping with dozens of outbreaks, this year’s flu season is not as severe as B.C. experienced in the past two winters.

This season started early with a mix of influenza A and B strains, with influenza B more prevalent now.

“The good news of this is the influenza B protection in the vaccine is pretty good this year,” Kendall said. “It’s effective 60 to 70 per cent.”

Influenza A tends to affect older people more severely, and its incidence is down this year compared to the severe infection levels seen last year.

As of Wednesday, Fraser Health listed influenza outbreaks at more than 30 health facilities, including Delta and Langley Memorial Hospitals.

Island Health listed six outbreaks as of Wednesday, including at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Interior Health has 11 outbreaks on its list, including residential care homes in Kelowna, Penticton, Williams Lake, Kaslo and Kamloops.

Influenza vaccines are still available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies. The B.C. government maintains a list of available flu shot clinics at www.immunizebc.ca.