Sniffles and sneezes may just seem to be part of the normal course of events during the colder months but there are always two words that can strike fear into the hearts of even the brave… flu season.
While anecdotal reports of an increase of people coming down with the flu locally may seem like the beginning of an outbreak, at this point it’s just part of the normal seasonal progression of viruses, according to Interior Health’s Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Andrew Larder.
“We have a variety of ways of monitoring what’s happening in the communities,” Larder said. “There is the provincial survey through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and physician’s visits show a gradual increase related to flu-like illnesses. This is completely in-keeping with what we’ve seen in the same time periods in previous years.”
Flu-like illnesses refer to any illnesses affecting the respiratory system and presenting influenza symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness, and cough.
Larder said the province collects specimens for virus monitoring purposes and that the proportion of tests coming back positive for influenza has gone up, with from 10 to 20 per cent testing positive.
“Locally, we track outbreaks in residential care facilities and by reports from school’s absenteeism,” Larder said. “The number of schools reporting greater than 10 per cent absenteeism has been rising and residential care facilities have reported 13 outbreaks but in all of them it has been a virus other than influenza.”
Larder allowed that the flu season is picking up, as it normally does at this time of year, but that it typically doesn’t reach its peak until early in the new year, usually in January and February.
The pattern of increase in cases of the flu may be largely the same as other years but Larder says the strain of the virus is slightly different.
“What we’re seeing is predominantly H1N1 this year, last year was mostly H3N2,” he said. “They are both covered in a flu shot and we’re plenty early enough in the flu season to get vaccinated so people can develop the protective antibodies before the real season hits. Vaccination is still the best protection from influenza.”
While it may not be looking like the Greater Trail area is in the midst of a serious outbreak, there is, however, justification to be concerned for young children as they may have not been born the last time the H1N1 strain of influenza was prominent in the province and haven’t had the opportunity to build up antibodies to the virus.
“Parents who are reluctant to have their young children receive injections can choose the flu mist to have their children vaccinated,” Larder said. “The spray is actually more effective in children than the injection.”
Larder says the best protection against influenza are the same recommendations that people are reminded of every year.
“Wash your hands and use paper tissues that can be thrown away,” he said. “And if you get sick stay away from work. Your workmates will thank you.”