Influenza is knocking people off their feet around the capital region, but not everyone who has flu symptoms has the flu.
“We’re seeing quite high levels of what you might call influenza-like illness,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. “Looking at the lab specimens that are being tested, about one in four is coming back with influenza-A.”
If you do get the flu, expect fever, cough, aches, pains and generally “feeling wretched,” Kendall said. The flu-like conditions tend to be respiratory infections, and can have similar symptoms.
Influenza tends to be more severe for older people, Kendall said, and there have been a number of outbreaks of flu or flu-like illness in long-term care facilities around the province. Within the Vancouver Island Health Authority, outbreaks are reported in Greenwoods on Saltspring Island, Parksville’s Trillium Lodge and Nanaimo Seniors Village.
Influenza-A has been confirmed only at the Nanaimo site.
Kendall said his push to have more health-care workers immunized for the flu has begun to have the desired effect. Flu-shot coverage in full-time workers is about 75 per cent this year, up from 30 to 40 per cent in previous years, he said. “It’s still not as high as we’d like, but this year, it’s a big improvement.”
Some unions had balked at making the shots mandatory and at Kendall’s call for masks to be worn by workers who haven’t been immunized.
Voluntary compliance is being stressed for now, while the requirement for masks is on hold.
Overall, the number of flu-vaccine doses in circulation — a number that can include doses not yet administered — had reached 175,100 in VIHA’s territory after the most recent tally Dec. 21, said VIHA medical health officer Dr. Dee Hoyano. That surpasses the 167,000 doses distributed for all of the 2011-12 flu season, she said.
Hoyano said the number of cases of the flu diagnosed in B.C. has been “typical” and in line with past years.
A full accounting of the number of flu shots given across the province will be made later in 2013, Kendall said, adding there is still plenty of time to get a shot and benefit from it.
Shots are available at public clinics and through general practitioners or pharmacists.
“It does take about two weeks for the immunity from the flu shot to build up,” Kendall said.
He said the current flu shot is estimated to be about 60 per cent effective.
“You have different strains circulating every year and you have to try to guess whether the strains in the vaccine are going to match.”
Shots are free for certain people, including those older than 65 or with chronic health conditions. Otherwise, the cost can be in the $20 to $30 range.
Flu season generally runs from October until the end of March.
© Copyright 2013