Flu season is here – with a vengeance

Patricia Daly | January 11th, 2017

Flu season is upon us in VCH, and you may have heard that this season is a nasty one compared to the last couple of years. That’s because the flu strain circulating this year is an influenza A H3N2 strain, which typically affects the frail elderly most severely. It is also the type of influenza strain most likely to cause outbreaks in residential care and other health care facilities.

Since the start of December 2016, there have been 18 confirmed influenza A outbreaks in acute care and residential care facilities in VCH, including VCH and contracted facilities. Eleven of these have been reported in the last week alone.

The good news is that the influenza A H3N2 strain contained in this season’s influenza vaccine is a very good match for the strain circulating.  However, we know that frail elderly people and those patients with chronic conditions do not respond well to flu vaccination because of their weakened immune systems. The best way of protecting them is to make sure those people around them are vaccinated, to decrease the chances that they will be exposed to this serious virus.  This includes all health care workers working in acute care, residential care facilities and community facilities.

If you have not been vaccinated, it is not too late to get your flu shot.  It is available at your family doctor, pharmacy, and walk-in clinics. Remember to report your flu shot after vaccination at https://flu.vch.ca/. Physicians (including physicians, dentists, midwives, psychologists, podiatrists, and denturists and nurse practitioners and fellows) report at medicalstaffhealth.vch.ca. For those of you who choose not to be vaccinated, remember to wear a procedural mask in all patient care areas at work for the remainder of the flu season to protect your patients and clients.

More information

More information is available at www.vch.ca/staff-flu.

About the Author

Patricia Daly
email iconPatricia.Daly@vch.ca  

Dr. Patty Daly is chief medical health officer and vice president of public health as well as a clinical professor in the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC. Patty writes about public health issues. View all posts by Patty.

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4 comments on “Flu season is here – with a vengeance

  • Yvonne Leduc says:

    The flu vaccine this year was only 42% effective according to lead researcher, Dr. Danuta Skowronski, of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

    The person who commented above who had the flu over Christmas is probably – not – mistaken in their judgement.

    The studies I have read about masks indicate they do not help prevent flu.

    I am not against vaccines. I am against vaccines that are politically motivated, that need to be taken every year, and have limited effectiveness. VCH imposes the flu vaccine on healthcare workers for economics (sick time), not because they care about their patients. It’s a waste of money.

    And, as the commentator above noted, it provides a false sense of security. It’s better not to have it, and stay home anytime you feel unwell. How much flu is spread by vaccinated healthcare workers who believe they are immune?

    • Giovanna Zammit says:

      Thank you for your statements. I have never had the flu shot. I have had the flu twice since 2005 or before that, I don’t remember exactly. When I feel sick I make my own get-well fluids to drink. I get very bad colds and coughs and I bounce back. Nothing to get shot up over. It is so refreshing to read others stories about surviving the winter without the flu shot. I am proud of myself because I work to stay helathy throughout the year and it does take work. Everything that you eat and drink needs to be super clean and healthy for you if you want your body to remain strong and able to fight of the common illnesses, such as the cough, cold, and the flu. Thank you for speaking up.

  • The hoidays flu by! says:

    Question:

    Typically the flu shot that we receive only covers the most prevalent strains of the flu virus. There are many strains out there that staff could be carrying that would not be covered by the flu shot. I had the flu over Christmas holidays even though I had received the required immunization. If the odds are so high to catch a strain of the flu that is not covered, isn’t everyone operating under a false notion that we are not carriers and can’t infect anyone else? Maybe the only way to prevent any strain of being transmitted is the mask.

    • Patricia Daly says:

      Thanks for your question. This year, the strain of flu circulating and causing outbreaks is contained in the vaccine. We have no evidence of other strains circulating that are not contained in the vaccine. However, there are other viruses that cause colds and symptoms similar to influenza, so you may have had one of those viruses over the holidays. The flu shot will not protect against those viruses. However, other respiratory viruses are not associated with same increased rates of severe illness and death among the frail elderly and those with other chronic health conditions as we see with influenza, which is why we require staff to either get a flu shot or wear a mask at work during flu season.

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