B.C. Industry News

Fraser Health battles increase in H1N1 flu cases

January 6, 2014

Norovirus outbreak at St. Paul’s Hospital confined to two units

By Kevin Griffin and Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun

A new class of flu drug developed at UBC latches onto the neuraminidase like a broken key, stuck in a lock, rendering it useless and has been shown to be effective against drug resistant strains of the flu virus.

METRO VANCOUVER — The Fraser Health Authority is urging people to get flu shots after a spike in severe H1N1 cases that may have resulted in one death and put at least a dozen people on respirators.

None of the more than 12 patients had been vaccinated against the newly resurgent swine flu — which has recently killed five people in Alberta — according to Fraser Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder. He suspects one local patient has died from the flu, but is awaiting confirmation from test results in the next several days.

“I was expecting, because that’s the (flu) strain that we do have, that I wouldn’t see a lot of severe disease,” Van Buynder said, referencing the global H1N1 pandemic of 2009. “Because people were exposed years ago and it’s been in the vaccine for the last three or four years, I’m disappointed at the extent of the severe disease that we’re seeing already.”

The spike in severe cases over the last two weeks mirrors the pattern seen in Alberta, Ontario and Texas, Van Buynder said.

About half of Fraser Health’s severe cases involve “significantly overweight” patients, who are more susceptible to more serious symptoms, he added. This flu strain has severely affected patients of all age groups, Van Buynder said.

He urged anyone not vaccinated to get a flu shot as soon as possible, but especially higher-risk patients who are overweight, pregnant or with chronic illnesses like asthma.

Since Christmas, 20 adults have been hospitalized with the flu in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority’s region. Vancouver Coastal spokesman Gavin Wilson said his region has five patients in intensive care right now with a flu strain that he assumes is H1N1.

Anyone who wants to find the nearest flu clinic or see if they’re eligible for a free shot can call 811, or visit: immunizebc.ca/clinics/flu.

Meanwhile, visitors to two units at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital are being required to wear gowns and gloves after a norovirus outbreak described as a leading cause of gastrointestinal illness.

The outbreak was confirmed on Thursday afternoon when seven of the 75 patients in two of the general medicine units were infected, said Providence Health Care spokesman Dave Lefebvre.

Symptoms indicating a norovirus outbreak include nausea, vomiting, and loose and watery stool above what is considered normal. Lefebvre said as soon as there is a suspicion of norovirus, the hospital takes steps to contain it before it is confirmed by tests, including stopping any patient transfers in or out of the units in question. Symptomatic staff members are sent home.

“We also strongly discourage any visitors to the patients,” he said. Visitors are only required to wear a mask if there is active vomiting, he said.

The hospital says the outbreak has been contained to the two units and none of the other services, units or programs are affected. Lefebvre said he couldn’t say how long visitors to the two units will have to wear a gown and gloves.

Dr. Reka Gustafson, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said that since Nov. 1 there have been 11 outbreaks of norovirus in long-term care facilities and hospitals including St. Paul’s in the region.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness and a fairly common occurrence every year. She said it is a hardy virus that is easy to transmit.

Anyone with the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, she said, can stop its spread by staying away from hospitals and long-term care facilities. Symptoms usually clear-up within 48 to 72 hours.


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