The Central Island is being hit with a double whammy, says Vancouver Island Health Authority Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback.
And it’s likely to get a lot worse before it gets better, he said.
In an interview Monday, Hasselback said physicians are seeing cases of both influenza and Norwalk virus.
“We are seeing the front end of both,” he said. “We have had the first outbreaks occurring in residential care settings, although not in long-term care facilities — but I would not be surprised to see that occur at any point in time. We are expecting it to come and we are seeing evidence of it starting here.”
Hasselback stressed that while there is a perception that this year’s strain of influenza is particularly nasty, it’s actually more like the norm.
“I like it when I’m wrong in predicting it’s going to be bad and it may not be any worse than a normal year, but we have had several mild years of influenza and norovirus, so a normal year may look like it’s more severe,” he said. “This is more typical of what influenza tends to be like.”
That said, he noted a normal year of influenza can still be problematic.
“When influenza has a normal year we are going to see death and lots of hospitalizations right across the country,” he said.
Hasselback said the situation is made more difficult by the outbreak of norovirus at the same time, which is often mistaken for influenza.
“For influenza the typical symptoms are fever, achy muscles and cough,” he said. “Norovirus is the bug with vomiting and diarhoea. Some people get the norovirus and think it’s influenza and say they had the vaccine but still got sick.”
Although a flu shot is a good idea for those who are particularly vulnerable, Hasselback said the window for it to be effective in time to prevent the illness is rapidly closing.
However, he said there are other steps people can take to lessen the risk to themselves and others.
“For both of these, washing hands is the most important protection,” he said. “I like to call it immaculate personal hygiene. Influenza spreads through the air and you can stop spreading your germs by making sure you don’t cough into your hands or the air. Use a tissue or, even better, a sleeve makes a wonderful material to capture those bugs and not infect others.”
Anyone who gets infected, he added, should be selfish with their virus.
“Don’t be generous,” he said. “Keep your germs to yourself. Don’t go to work and don’t send kids to school. Particularly with the Norovirus, if someone in the household has it, give them one bathroom and keep the other one clean so people don’t have to share their space when they’re sick.”