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Penticton pharmacist sees spike in flu patients
It may seem like this flu season has been particularly nasty, but a top official at Interior Health says that’s only because fewer people took ill the past few winters.
“This is very much a story about how we’ve had a quiet couple of years, and this year we’ve had business as usual,” said Dr. Trevor Corneil, an IH medical health officer.
“Every two or three years we have a season like this where there’s a lot of flu.”
Corneil was unable to explain this year’s spike, nor why the height of the flu season seems to have arrived early this year. He said this year’s strain also seems to produce “more severe symptoms” than other strains in recent years, but the symptoms themselves are not unusual for the bug.
Because it’s impossible to record the total number of flu cases in B.C., Corneil said, health agencies sample a small number of people who display flu-like symptoms and then extrapolate a larger rate.
By that measure, the province as a whole was near a 10-year high during the second week of January, the most recent period for which data is available from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
That also held true in the IH region, where Corneil said it’s typical for between 10 and 15 care facilities to be in the midst of a flu outbreak at any one time during the height of the season.
Cornell suggested that anyone trying to stave off sickness get vaccinated as soon as possible. He said this year’s shot contains the flu strain that’s going around, so it’s expected to prevent infection in 50 to 60 per cent of people who get it, a rate he described as “fantastic.”
IH expects to deliver about 150,000 free vaccinations this year to at-risk patients at clinics throughout the region.
Penticton pharmacist Brent Atkinson said the flu season started out “fairly routine” for the clinic at his store, Peoples Pharmacy, but he noticed a “fairly large increase” in people seeking remedies and vaccinations right after Christmas.
Atkinson said Peoples is vaccinating between 10 and 20 people per day, but he was unable to quantify exactly how much busier the pharmacy and its competitors are this year.
“It’s hard to put numbers on it. We’re just one store in a city,” Atkinson said.
Besides noticing an increase in cases, Atkinson also said this year’s flu strain seems to spread easier than its predecessors did.
“It appears that it’s particularly virulent compared to last year. I don’t know if that’s due to more people were vaccinated (last year) or whether this is actually a different strain,” he added.
Atkinson advised those hoping to avoid contracting the flu to get a vaccination, avoid contact with sick people where possible, and wash their hands frequently. He added that proper rest and nutrition are important year round, but particularly so during flu season.