As the number of cases and deaths continue to rise in this year’s influenza outbreak, the Fraser Health Authority declared it a health hazard for the region.
Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, a medical health officer with the FHA, said there have been 19 reported outbreaks in residential care facilities, twice as many as in each of the last two years. She said considering the strength of the viruses causing the outbreaks, the flu season could continue thru until April.
“This year we had a number of significant outbreaks by mid-December and as it stands, we haven’t seen the peak yet,” cautioned Brodkin.
Because the outbreak is so sever, the FHA has declared the current level of influenza (flu) virus a health hazard under the provisions of the Public Health Act. That has given care facilities the authority to ensure anyone visiting or working at a residential care or assisted living facility who have not received a flu shot this year to wear a mask.
Unvaccinated care home employees who refuse to wear a mask will be sent home without pay. Anti-viral medication is also being given to all residents in care homes with outbreaks to try to prevent serious illness.
While there hasn’t been any declared influenza outbreaks in Mission, that’s not to say the virus hasn’t been making its way around the community, said FHA spokesperson Talseem Juma. She said there has been a spike in the district and visits to the emergency room have jumped compared to other years. She said people need to be vigilant when it comes to prevention.
“It’s a common sense thing. Practicing good hygiene and washing your hands frequently is an effective way to prevent spreading the virus.”
Brodkin said the severity of the flu tends to go in cycles. For the last two years, the strain has been relatively mild, however, that can cause it’s own problems. she warned.
“People get complacent and forget how nasty the flu can be,” said Brodkin, “and this year is a nasty season.”
The FHA is reporting as many as three times the number of deaths associated with influenza among residents of residential care facilities compared to the last three years combined.
Brodkin also warned against the mentality of trying to “tough it out.” She said anyone who starts showing symptoms should go home and avoid contact with co-workers. In addition, she urges anyone who could be at risk to steer clear of visiting family and friends at residential care homes or the hospital.
She said the best defence is to get a flu shot.
“It’s definitely not too late,” she said.
Brodkin added people can obtain a flu shot from their family doctor, the local health unit, walk-in clinics or from pharmacies for anyone five and older.