Flu season is nearing its peak. Expect to be asked to wear a mask inside health facilities if you haven't been vaccinated.

Active flu outbreaks hit three Penticton care homes

Interior Health official says numbers typical for this time of year, which is the peak of flu season

Active flu outbreaks were underway at three residential-care facilities in Penticton this week during what is the most prolific time of year for the illness.

“Typically for the Influenza A strain in B.C. over the last 20 years, the peak often occurs between Christmas and New Year’s, so that seems to be what’s happening,” said Dr. Rob Parker, a medical health officer for Interior Health.

Outbreaks are declared when there are two or more lab-confirmed cases of an illness at a facility, which can prompt a range of precautions such as quarantines, restriction of movements, cancellation of group events, and anti-viral medication for healthy residents, he explained.

“That usually ends new cases from occurring within a couple days,” said Parker.

The active outbreaks were declared in Penticton at Trinity Care Centre on Dec. 19, Village by the Station on Dec. 21, and Westview Place on Dec. 22, and were all still in place as of Tuesday.

Two residential-care homes in Vernon were the only other such facilities within the Interior Health region with declared flu outbreaks as of Tuesday.

Parker said the numbers are typical for this time of year.

In all, there were 10 active flu outbreaks in care facilities throughout Interior Health as of Tuesday. That’s compared to eight in December 2013 and 11 in December 2012.

The current most virulent flu strain is AH3N2, which Parker said tends to affect seniors, for whom it can be fatal if they have underlying health conditions.

“Often, it’s a contributory cause (of death) for an already frail senior,” he said.

Making matters worse, that flu strain isn’t a component of this season’s vaccine, which went into production in the spring.

“It’s a slightly different strain that was only starting to be seen in late March a little bit, and that seems to be the one that’s come to the fore,” said Parker.

Still, the doctor encouraged people who haven’t already done so to get a flu shot, particularly those at risk, such as seniors and people with chronic health conditions.

Tara Kamann, a pharmacist and part-owner at Riverside Pharmasave in Penticton, said her store has plenty of vaccine available, but the demand for shots has tapered off.

“We’re still doing a few of them, but most people have been vaccinated at this point,” she said.

Symptoms of flu include sore throat, high fever and muscle aches. People with such symptoms who are otherwise healthy should stay home from work or school for five days, said Parker, while those with underlying conditions should consider paying a visit to their doctor.

More information on flu clinics can be found online at www.immunizebc.ca.