Two types of viruses floating around region


Morning Star Staff

While this might seem like an unusually rough time in terms of cold and flu viruses, apparently, it’s not.

There are two types of viruses currently circulating in the region: influenza – which affects the respiratory system with coughing, fever, runny nose and sore throat, and norovirus – the most common cause of gastrointestinal outbreaks, with symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, possibly a low grade fever and muscle aches and pains.

While the activity of influenza is higher and earlier than it was last year, the last two years were not typical years.

Dr. Andrew Larder, medical health officer with the Interior Health Authority, said the current situation is back to normal, in terms of compiled data.

“It usually starts rising the last week of December and early January. It will stay at relatively high levels until late February, then drop down.”

Larder said the influenza virus – which has been identified as influenza A at several residential care facilities in the region – appears to have reached its highest level of activity and will stay at that level for possibly another six to seven weeks.

At this point, 11 residential care facilities in the IHA region have reported respiratory virus outbreaks, and six of them have been confirmed as Influenza A.

Just one facility, an acute-care hospital in the Kootenays, has reported a norovirus outbreak.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District reports that Falkland Elementary experienced high absenteeism just before Christmas, but no schools have reported high numbers of absentees since Jan. 2.

Is it unusual to have both influenza and norovirus outbreaks at the same time?

“Sadly not,” says Larder, noting that noro tends to circulate this time of year.

“It used to be called winter vomiting disease.”

Although other parts of B.C. have been experiencing high levels of norovirus activity attributed to a new strain, that trend doesn’t hold true in this region.

“Looking at our data, the number of outbreaks since November are exactly the same as last year. We’re seeing a pretty typical norovirus season,” Larder says.

Because people can pick up the norovirus off infected surfaces, disinfecting is important.

“A couple of years ago there was a real spate of outbreaks on cruise ships. They had to bring them into port and clean them from top to bottom.”

He points out that it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, and it is currently available from doctors’ offices or the health unit.

“It’s still time for immunity to develop. The viruses circulating do match the ones in the vaccine.”

And, he emphasizes, “the best way to avoid both of these is really good hand hygiene and really good cough etiquette – use handkerchiefs or cough into the upper arm.”

He also stresses: “If you get sick, stay away from work or stay away from school.”


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