Aussie flu spike con­cerns top doc

But more cases Down Un­der no guar­an­tee of bad flu sea­son here, med­i­cal of­fi­cer says

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - TOM MOR­RI­SON

While the num­ber of cases of in­fluenza in Aus­tralia this year has caused con­cerns for health of­fi­cials in Canada and the U.S., Chatham-Kent’s med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health has said that’s not a sure in­di­ca­tion of how the up­com­ing flu sea­son will progress.

The Aus­tralian govern­ment in Septem­ber re­ported there had been 2½ times as many con­firmed cases this year as in the same pe­riod last year. Most North Amer­i­can pub­lic health agen­cies look to the South­ern Hemi­sphere to gauge their own flu sea­sons.

But Dr. David Colby of the Chatham-Kent Pub­lic Health Unit said “no per­son on Earth” could say how the lo­cal flu sea­son will roll out this year, be­cause it hasn’t started yet.

“It’s a mat­ter of con­cern,” he said of Aus­tralia’s sea­son, “but it’s not de­fin­i­tive . . . we may have a mild flu sea­son, we can­not pre­dict it.”

Colby said he’s not con­cerned, but he is “vig­i­lant” when it comes to in­fluenza.

He said the health unit isn’t pro­ceed­ing dif­fer­ently this year, but there may be a time later in the sea­son when he’ll be­come con­cerned.

“I’m cer­tainly not pre­sum­ing that there’s go­ing to be doom and gloom and I don’t be­lieve that’s naïve op­ti­mism,” he said. “I think we re­ally have to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion as it’s de­vel­op­ing.”

The Aus­tralia sit­u­a­tion can help pre­dict which strains of the flu might ap­pear in North Amer­ica, said Colby, but even that isn’t def­i­nite. Some­times flu vac­cine based on those strains is a mis­match for North Amer­ica, he said, as hap­pened dur­ing the 2014-15 flu sea­son.

“The other thing is a pan­demic can hap­pen any­time. It’s a ran­dom oc­cur­rence. It doesn’t hap­pen of­ten,” said Colby.

Lisa North­cott, vice-pres­i­dent and chief nurs­ing of­fi­cer at Chatham-Kent Health Al­liance, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­pects a bad sea­son be­cause of the flu ac­tiv­ity in Aus­tralia this year.

“We ac­tu­ally aren’t re­ally do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ent this year than we would any other year, be­cause we al­ways go into flu sea­son an­tic­i­pat­ing . . . the worst that can hap­pen,” she said.

The al­liance has poli­cies which “out­line where we would open beds, how we would in­crease our staffing lev­els to ac­com­mo­date those ex­tra pa­tients” and ad­dress other is­sues, she said.

Chatham-Kent had 72 con­firmed cases dur­ing the 2016-17 flu sea­son, the health unit said, a higher vol­ume of cases than the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

The al­liance ad­mit­ted 39 pa­tients with con­firmed flu cases — one of which was ac­quired in hospi­tal — last sea­son. No out­breaks were de­clared.

“Our poli­cies tell us that when we have a cer­tain num­ber of pa­tients that get hospi­tal-ac­quired flu ill­ness, then we de­clare an out­break,” said North­cott. “When that hap­pens, we have to com­mu­ni­cate with Pub­lic Health and then we work very closely with them.”

Colby said he hopes area res­i­dents get their flu shots, since On­tario is one of the world’s only ju­ris­dic­tions that of­fers them free.

“You can’t get the flu from the flu shot,” he said. “The side-ef­fects are usu­ally non-ex­is­tent or very, very mild. Usu­ally just some lo­cal arm sore­ness.”

He said the health unit had not re­ceived any vac­cine ship­ments this week, but they usu­ally ar­rive to­ward mid- or late Oc­to­ber. The unit then co-or­di­nates dis­tri­bu­tion to phar­ma­cies, fam­ily doc­tors and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers.

North­cott said the al­liance will run daily flu shot clin­ics for staff from Oct. 19 un­til the end of Novem­ber.

Colby also said many peo­ple mis­un­der­stand what flu is.

“They think it’s di­ar­rhea and up­set stom­ach,” he said. “The flu is fever, chills, cough and mus­cle aches . . . it doesn’t have any­thing to do with the di­ges­tive tract.

“Some kids who get in­fluenza also . . . get di­ar­rhea with it, but it’s not com­mon in adults.”


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