Hand washing is one of the best ways to stop the spread of colds and flu.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to stop the spread of colds and flu.

Influenza outbreaks reported in local care facilities

There have been 12 lab-confirmed deaths from influenza in the Interior Health region so far this season.

Cold, cough, and influenza season has arrived in the Interior Health (IH) region, with almost everyone having suffered, currently suffering, or knowing someone who has suffered from one of the viruses making the rounds.

This year’s flu virus has swept through 18 residential care facilities in IH in recent weeks, and flu outbreaks have been declared in all of them. Fifteen deaths in these facilities could be linked to the virus, meaning that the patients could have died from other causes, but did so in a facility where the virus is circulating.

A flu outbreak is declared when at least two people in the same facility come down with the flu virus within seven days of each other. No local care facilities are among those affected, but the Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre (Jade Unit) and Berwick on the Park (Brio Unit) in Kamloops have both been hit.

There have been 86 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in the IH region so far this season, and 12 confirmed deaths from influenza. This compares with no deaths from influenza at the same time last year. Interior Health is limiting visitations at some sites, and is asking anyone who does visit, and who has not had the flu vaccine, to wear a mask. It has also put measures in place to prevent the further spread of the illness, including enhanced cleaning practices and limiting social activities.

Because the influenza virus typically peaks in January, IH says that it expects to see the virus have more impacts on care facilities and related sites, which will likely lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

Influenza is particularly dangerous for some people such as older adults, people with chronic health problems, and babies, and authorities say it is not too late to get an immunization. This year’s flu vaccine is a good match for the most prevalent strain seen this year, influenza type A H3N2. There are still vaccines available in the region, and they are available free of charge for many people. Anyone planning on getting the flu vaccine should confirm with their local pharmacy whether it is available.

In most healthy people, influenza symptoms such as headache, fever, coughing and sneezing, and a sore throat will last from five to seven days. There is no cure for the flu, and antibiotics do not work in the case of the cold or flu virus. Symptoms are best treated by staying at home, resting, drinking lots of fluids (sports drinks are good for replacing lost electrolytes), and taking an over-the-counter medicine to lower any fever.

If you are suffering from influenza, avoid work or school so that you minimize contact with others and the spread of germs. General prevention measures include frequent and proper hand washing; covering your nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing; cleaning frequently touched surfaces; and properly disposing of tissues.

Keep babies away from people with colds or the flu, and avoid sharing cups, utensils, and towels until they have been washed. Boost your immune system with healthy foods, and make sure you are getting enough vitamin D, which is thought to help strengthen immune systems.

If you have been showing symptoms of the flu and they are getting worse, or you are not recovering, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for medical advice. This free, confidential service will connect you with a health care professional who can provide advice about how to manage your health concerns or those of family members.