Flu bug hits Fraser region hard

Ten care homes now dealing with influenza outbreaks – as many as all reported in previous flu season

Dr. Michelle Murti is a medical health officer for Fraser Health.

Fraser Health has lab-confirmed flu outbreaks in progress at 10 different long-term care facilities following a spike in influenza activity over the holiday season.

Medical health officer Dr. Michelle Murti said it’s remarkable to have 10 care home outbreaks active simultaneously as that’s as many as Fraser recorded in the entire flu season last year.

“It’s quite a heavy year,” she said Monday, noting there have also been eight earlier facility outbreaks that have since cleared up.

Flu season started early with residential outbreaks beginning in late September and early October.

The bugs circulating had plenty of opportunity to find new victims as families and friends gathered over the holidays.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Jan. 2 reported a “sharp increase” in influenza-like illness reports in the final two weeks of December.

“With school back on we’ll now see more transmission in the community as well,” Murti said.

The vaccine provided this flu season isn’t considered as effective as in past years because of some drift in the genetic makeup of the H3N2 flu virus that’s been dominant.

But Murti said many care home residents are reporting relatively mild symptoms and some have been surprised to learn they have the flu at all.

She said the less severe illness may stem from the partial protective effect of the vaccine against H3N2, or from residents’ built-up resistance from exposure to similar viruses in past years.

Meanwhile, B.C. has recorded a third death linked to enterovirus D68 infection.

The latest case is of a child who actually died in November but the B.C. Centre for Disease Control did not receive confirmation until last week.

There have been 220 enterovirus D68 cases detected in the province since mid-August. Of those, 140 required hospitalization and another five resulted in neurological illness associated with the virus.

Murti said enteroviruses are more prevalent in the summer and fall, and – as expected – their activity has waned with the onset of winter.

She offers the usual advice on avoiding flu and cold – washing hands often, cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if you feel ill.

“Especially if you are having respiratory symptoms you should not be that work hero going to work or school. It’s important to stay home so you’re not transmitting that to other people.”

Current outbreaks at residential care homes in Fraser Health