Interior Health has reported an increase in influenza, with H1N1 as the most predominant circulating strain this season.
The virus has been world-wide for almost five years, since the pandemic in 2009, and has now become a seasonal flu virus, according to Dr. Sue Pollock, medical health officer for Interior Health.
There have been 30 lab-confirmed cases (half H1N1) for all of Interior Health, with nine from the Kootenays. Pollock attributes this possibly to the holiday season when family’s share more than just dinners and gifts.
“The caveat to that is that the lab-confirmed cases are only just the tip of the iceberg,” said Pollock. “Those are only the cases where people actually go into see their physician and get tested for influenza.”
It’s difficult to track actual numbers, she said, as there are other individuals who manage their symptoms at home.
Unlike the common cold, influenza comes on suddenly. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, cough, runny nose and body aches.
Young and middle-aged adults have less immunity to this flu strain, which is quite different from last season when those over 65 years old were more susceptible to H3N2, the prominent strain then.
H1N1 isn’t more serious per se, according to Pollock, though it may seem that way with the number of cases popping up in the province. It’s unusual to see healthy, young people hospitalized and that seems to be gaining some attention.
“But in fact every year we do expect hospitalizations and deaths from the flu,” said Pollock.
“The flu can be a severe illness at any age but it just happens with H1N1, again the young and middle-aged adults, have less immunity and so we’re seeing some severe illness in that aged group.”
Even though approximately 50 per cent of the population would have immunity against H1N1 at this time, Pollock still recommends individuals get the flu shot to protect themselves against the ever-changing strain.
Though flu clinics have wrapped up, people can still see their physicians or go to a pharmacist.
Higher risk groups include children under five years old, who were born after the 2009 pandemic year, and individuals with chronic health conditions.
Beyond the flu shot, Pollock recommends good hand hygiene and staying home if symptoms come on.