Flu outbreak hits mid-Island

WCGH emergency department has been busier than usual due to an influx of flu patients in Port Alberni.

Emergency departments across Vancouver Island are over capacity due to an influx of flu patients, and West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni is no exception.

“We definitely have seen an increase of people with influenza-like symptoms coming to the emergency room,” WCGH site director Pam Rardon said.

“The emergency room has been very busy. The flu hits hard with the elderly population…that’s definitely what we’re observing.

“Last season was fairly mild for influenza, which was good,” Rardon said. “This has definitely been a tougher year.”

The strain showing up in B.C. this winter is Influenza A H3N2, which is what the flu vaccine released last fall is covering, Island Health medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said.

As early as October 2016, Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said outbreaks due to H3N2 were occurring. “A number of us are concerned that it’s H3N2 we’re likely facing this year,” Skowronski said then.

“Influenza is a very severe illness and we would expect there would be deaths attached to it,” Hasselback said, but it’s difficult to track because there is no system in place.

Influenza has slowly crept up-Island from the Victoria area, he added. “We track an awful lot in long-term care settings and hospitals. We have at the moment a fair number of long-term care facilities that have precautions in place because of an influenza outbreak in their facilities.”

The outbreak has affected two long-term care facilities in Port Alberni: Echo Village is presently under restrictions, while Fir Park Village had been under restrictions but is clear now.

“Under restrictions means they are following influenza outbreak protocols,” Hasselback said.

That could mean anything from isolating someone who is exhibiting flu symptoms to limiting interaction between residents, and even limiting people who come to visit the facility, he said.

“For something like influenza we have a vaccine we provide in advance.”

Long-term care facilities also issue anti-viral flu medications such as oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu) to help stem outbreaks, Hasselback said.

Both Hasselback and Rardon urge people to only come to the emergency department if they are experiencing a true health emergency.

“During an influenza outbreak people will come down with a fever and cough, aches and pains,” Hasselback said. “You can manage those symptoms at home.”

When symptoms get worse—for example, a child develops a fever after several days, or someone who was getting better suddenly develops a bad cough or has trouble breathing—that’s the time to call a doctor, he said.