‘An epidemic’: Flu outbreaks in 20 B.C. care facilities over holiday season

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control isn’t beating around the bush when it comes to warning the public about the H3N2 flu strain, calling the latest influenza outbreak at care facilities “an epidemic.”

Lead researcher Dr. Danuta Skowronski says just over the holiday season alone, about 20 care facilities across B.C. have seen an outbreak of flu.

“That’s comparable to the number that was reported in the holiday period during the last H3N2 epidemic in 2014,” said Skowronski.

“It’s about 10 times the number during the same period last season.”

She says the holiday season time period spans from Dec. 17 to Jan. 4 — and doesn’t factor in any flu outbreaks at care facilities before mid-December.

“So we’re probably sitting at 40 in total so far for this season.”

Skowronski says the increase in social interaction over the holiday season means many people pass the flu around.

More flu outbreaks expected

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control had warned the public in October that this year’s H3N2 flu strain was stronger and would hit harder and earlier this season. 

This year’s dominant strain was said to be more powerful than last year’s mild H1N1 strain.

But two years ago, the H3N2 flu also hit many care facilities hard and resulted in numerous deaths. Skowronski warns that this year’s strain is set to surpass numbers from the 2014-2015 season.

“[It’s] slightly exceeding that number — and 2014-15 at the end of the season, when we looked back, was one of the worst seasons we had experienced in a decade.”

She says the worst is yet to come.

“We are on the upslope still of the epidemic curve, we haven’t yet peaked,” said Skowronski. “We should expect more hospitalizations, more deaths, associated with influenza this year than in other seasons.” 

Skowronski says this year’s vaccine hits the right strain, but she adds that doesn’t mean people should consider themselves immune from influenza.

“If they develop flu-like symptoms, they should seek early care.”

Skowronski recommends anybody who has the flu should stay at home to avoid spreading it.

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