The volume of flu cases within the Northern Health region has been within normal boundaries so far, said Dr. William Osei, Northern Health medical health officer, but because the current virulent strain is associated with a previously pandemic outbreak, a lot of public concern has risen surrounding the current season.
“What you’re seeing now is a very normal trend of cases,” he said. “In the last 10 years we’ve seen an elevation in flu cases around the end of December and the beginning of January and a repeat a month later.”
The H1N1 flu virus is back, but health officials in the North stress that no deaths have been reported in B.C. associated with the virus, and very few confirmed cases have been found.
With only 26 confirmed cases throughout the Northern Health region, officials are recommending usual flu prevention hygiene, like frequent hand-washing, as well as getting the flu shot.
“The flu shot is your best shot to avoid the flu this season,” Dr. Osei said.
Even if the shot doesn’t completely prevent coming down with the flu, it will lessen the severity of illness as well as shorten the length of time a person is down and out.
A recent death in Alberta has sparked public interest in this year’s strains of flu, but the H5N1 virus associated with that death has not been confirmed in B.C. yet.
Although the previously pandemic H1N1 is circulating in B.C., officials do not fear a new pandemic, as current and previous vaccines contain H1N1 antibodies. Vaccination levels mean enough of the population has been vaccinated to make the possibility of a new pandemic related to H1N1 very unlikely.
Still that doesn’t mean that individuals can’t come down with the heavy-hitting bug.
So far, older residents have been the most severely hit by the flu this year.
“What we’re seeing here of those that have been hospitalized is an older age group, 55 years and older,” Dr. Osei said. “Only one was under 40.”
The flu vaccine is available at local health units throughout the region. In Burns Lake, the Lakes District Hospital public health unit is distributing the vaccine. For information on other locations in the Northern Health region, go to http://northernhealth.ca/OurServices/Facilities.aspx
The flu shot is also available in Burns Lake through Pharmasave in the Lakeview mall, and Rexall Drugs on Hwy. 16. Although there is a charge associated with vaccination, the list of those qualifying for a free flu shot is extensive and liberally interpreted.