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Coronavirus could be influencing Interior Health flu season stats

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
March 02, 2020 - 7:00 AM

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus is capturing headlines both locally and around the world and knowledge of the outbreak could be affecting the statistics of this year’s regular flu season in the Interior Health region.

Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi said this year’s regular flu season in the region has been similar to the rest of B.C.

“As compared to other flu seasons, in the 2019-20 flu season there was a later start with relatively low numbers of cases, especially during the period when we would expect to see the peak of the season,” Golmohammadi said in an email.

But Golmohammadi said the number of flu cases in recent months have remained elevated when a decline is normally seen. He said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control suspects that recent concerns related to novel coronavirus infection may be influencing the higher numbers as people worry they have COVID-19, not the flu, and see medical attention.

Interior Health’s institutional outbreaks at care homes and other facilities is on pace with last years but lower than the previous year, Golmohammadi said, with co-circulation of both influenza A and B viruses throughout the entire season. He said this year’s flu vaccine effectiveness is estimated at 58 per cent, which is considered good news.

“Regardless of the illness, the precautionary advice is the same. The most important thing you can do to prevent respiratory illness is to wash hands often, avoid touching your face, sneeze or cough into your elbow, avoid others who are unwell and stay home when you are sick,” Golmohammadi said.

Anyone who suspects they may have an infectious disease should call their health care provider or hospital in advance so they can be safely assessed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonny Henry said during a media conference earlier this week, all seven people in the province who contracted the COVID virus were “doing well,” including one reported case in the B.C. Interior.

She said there are now 39 countries with active cases, with South Korea, Northern Italy and Iran presenting particular concerns.

Henry said the province was making preparations and analyzing what might be different if transmission of the virus becomes widespread in Canada and B.C.

She said the province was working with other governments to “have things in place” should that happen.

The province is also working on initiatives to prevent transmission of the virus within the community, including enhancing people’s ability to clean their hands, getting the message out to people to stay away from mass gatherings, celebrations and community events if sick and providing options for sick people to work from their home.

“We’re copying what we do every year during flu season, but doing it at a heightened level,” she said.

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