News » Whistler

Doctors predicting nasty flu season

by

comment

Whistler immunization programs underway

It’s going to take more than a few aspirin and bowls of chicken noodle soup to stay healthy this flu season.

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, early indications are that it is going to be a rough year. They have already ordered 800,000 doses of vaccine to help high-risk people fight this year’s common flu bugs, including a potentially dangerous form of the A-Panama influenza virus.

"The strain circulating is an A-Panama influenza… and that subtype is always nastier than the others. It has circulated before, but never the dominant strain," says Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BCCDC. "In 2000 and even last year influenza ‘B’ was predominating, and influenza B is kind of boring actually, milder than influenza ‘A’…and subtypes."

Isolated cases and a few small outbreaks of Panama-A have already been reported in Ontario, months earlier than expected.

"Things usually don’t get going until November and peak around Christmas," says Dr. Skowronski. "We usually start immunizing after thanksgiving, but for us to have outbreaks already is really early."

No cases have been reported in the west as of yet, and if the vaccination program is a success Dr. Skowronski believes that a potentially bad flu season could be nipped in the bud before it becomes serious.

The medical community typically watches what’s happening in the southern hemisphere to determine what strains of the flu virus are in circulation, and early signs have led doctors to take a cautious approach. While the flu season was mild in developed countries like Australia, a full A-Panama outbreak on the island of Madagascar claimed hundreds of lives.

"We’re not saying this to scare the living bejeezus out of people, we’re saying this because there is something people can do," says Dr. Skowronski.

The vaccine that was prepared for this winter includes Panama-A among other common strains of flu.

High risk groups, including seniors, people with heart and lung conditions, and people who have compromised immune systems for any reason, are advised to get their free vaccination. Health care professionals and emergency first responders also receive free vaccine.

"The rest of us have to buy it, but it’s really the best thing you can do," Dr. Skowronski says.

For most healthy people, A-Panama will seem like any other flu bug, although it might hit a little harder and stick around a little longer. It poses its greatest risk to people who are vulnerable or have chronic health problems going into the cold and flu season.

Whistler is also gearing up for the flu season.

"When you don’t take precautions, you could wind up missing work, and you could wind up missing the fun too, as you could find yourself sick in bed on a powder day," says Marilyn McIvor, public health nurse for the Coast Garibaldi area.

Your best bet for staying healthy is to wash your hands, get adequate sleep, eat nuritious foods, avoid tobacco and get a flu shot.

"A flu shot is safe and effective. It’s still the best protection you have against this disease," says McIvor.

Dr. Paul Martiquet, the medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, is also recommending that people get a one-time pneumo-coccal vaccination that protects against pneumonia, influenza, and various coccal diseases like Streptococcus.

"Absolutely the best medicine here is prevention," he says.

In Whistler, those who qualify for free vaccinations will be able to get them from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority through their family physicians or the public health clinic at the Whistler Health Care Centre by appointment.

Those with an increased risk of infection include:

• all people over 65 year of age;

• adults and children with heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, anemia, cancer;

• adults and children with immune disorders such as HIV;

• health care workers and other first responders such as police, fire and paramedical workers.

For everyone else, the flu vaccine is available from doctors and the Travel Medicine and Vaccination Clinic, which is hosting its first drop-in vaccination clinic during the annual Whistler-Blackcomb Turkey Sale & Ski Swap at the base of Blackcomb Mountain.

The cost is $20 per person, and the clinic will operate during the regular hours of the sale. In addition, businesses can contact the Travel Medicine and Vaccination Clinic for in-house vaccination of staff members.

For more information, contact McIvor at the Travel Medicine & Vaccination Centre in Whistler at 604-905-8831.

Facts and Figures

• The flu is expected to infect one in four healthy adults this winter. Each infected person will be absent from work for 3 to 5 days, and will be affected for up to two weeks.

• Each year approximately 1,400 people in B.C. die from influenza and related pneumonia.

• The vaccine cannot give you the flu – the viruses in the vaccination formula are dead or otherwise deactivated. Side effects include redness and soreness in the area the shot was administered, and for some people a mild fever, fatigue and body aches for a day or two afterwards. A few people have a reaction called oculo-respiratory syndrome that causes redness in both eyes, and possibly a cough, sore throat, wheeze, tightness of chest, shortness of breath, or facial swelling. It is not a chronic reaction – according to studies, those who suffered ORS symptoms with vaccination in 2000 did not suffer again in 2001.

• People who have an anaphylactic allergy to eggs, or who have had shock-like reactions to previous vaccinations should consult their doctors.

• The flu vaccine only contains the types of flus that health experts expect to be a problem that season, and therefore a vaccination will not protect you against all forms of flu viruses. It is still effective in preventing an estimated seven out of 10 recipients from getting the flu.

• Flu shots are safe at any stage in a pregnancy, but you should consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

More information on flu bugs can be found on the B.C. Health Services Web site at www.healthservices.gov.bc.ca/hlthfile/ under "F".

Add a comment