Influenza hits province early and hard

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A sign is posted at Saint Luke’s Home on Road DeLuxe in St. John’s, in this photo taken New Year’s Day.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Although visitation to many health-care facilities is still restricted across the eastern region, there is hope that the spread and severity of the flu this year has reached a plateau.

Dr. David Allison, medical officer of health for the eastern region, predicts what is yet to come is quite difficult.

“The situation is very fluid and the information changes on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “We think we’ve plateaued in terms of the number of positive tests coming in, the number of outbreaks being reported. And we’re seeing some of the places we put under visitor restrictions coming off.”

That being said, Eastern Health just put restrictions on yet another of its facilities as of publication time, illustrating just how unpredictable the situation is.

Allison said this has been somewhat of a unique year for influenza.

“It’s come earlier. it seems to have spread very rapidly through the population.”

Usually, the height of the influenza outbreak takes place in February, March or April.

However, because the spread seemed to heighten over the Christmas break, there hasn’t been an outbreak in schools yet this year, says Allison. And there is concern that now, with students back in those confined areas, a school outbreak is imminent.

 In a weekly flu report by the provincial Department of Health and Community Services, there were 110 cases of influenza reported across the province by regional health authorities during the week of Dec. 30 to Jan. 5.

The total number of reported incidents of influenza for the province to that date was 179. So more than 60 per cent of the reported flu incidents in the province for the year occurred during that one week. Furthermore, 46 of the 60 hospitalizations due to influenza reported by regional health authorities for this season occurred within that week.

There have been 26 outbreaks in the eastern region thus far, which shows the intensity of the outbreak, Allison said.

“We have certainly seen some pretty widespread influenza, really, across the region.”

The elderly are the most significantly affected, he added. In the nursing home environment, it’s really hard to avoid spread because, like schools, it’s a closed environment.

“Our biggest concern so far has been the long-term care and personal care home situations where the elderly can be affected. And even though they may have only minor symptoms, it can mean very serious illness where complications set in early. Older individuals have multiple medical problems and we frequently see deaths occur in the older age group because of influenza,” he said.

There are a variety of ways to count illnesses and deaths, says Allison. It’s often hard to establish if flu is always the culprit.

It’s also difficult to judge how long this outbreak will last.

“We may see this resolved over the next few weeks,” says Allison.

In the meantime, he urged the public to continue to use the tried-and-true measures to prevent the spread of influenza. Wash your hands. Keep them away from your face. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. Stay home when sick. Seek out influenza vaccine if desired. And don’t panic.

“This is not unusual. We see flu every year. And we have the same challenges,” he said.

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Health and Community

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