Flu outbreak spreading from Cowichan north

It's been a busy flu season on Vancouver Island so far this winter, and the Cowichan Valley has not been exempt.

It’s been a busy flu season on Vancouver Island so far this winter, and the Cowichan Valley has not been exempt from the annual sick season.

Paul Hassleback, the medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said a flu outbreak has been spreading across the Island during the last few weeks, from south to north.

He said the flu outbreak, including the Influenza A H3N2 strain that’s most common so far this year, started about two weeks ago in Victoria, swept though the Cowichan Valley last week and is now continuing to spread north through Nanaimo.

“It’s like a wave rapidly rolling through the Island,” Hasselback said.

“It’s been reported that a high number of flu outbreaks are happening in long-term care facilities, especially in the Duncan area, but it’s a fact that there’s nothing unusual going on in Duncan. It’s just that the flu outbreak finally caught everyone’s attention by the time it reached Duncan.”

Hasselback acknowledged that the flu outbreak may be linked to four deaths on the Island so far, but there’s been no confirmation that the deaths were caused solely by the flu.

But he said it’s expected there will be more flu-related fatalities before the outbreak ends.

“We generally say that at the beginning of each flu season, but it’s a fact that influenza is a very serious illness that should not be taken lightly,” Hasselback said.

“The flu, when it happens, affects a large number of people and this year is particularly heavy.”

Hasselback said the best defence against getting the flu is to have a flu shot, but you should have the shot before you actually get sick for it to be most effective.

He said the symptoms to watch for are a fever, coughing and achiness that create a “whacked out sensation” that can last from days to weeks.

“If people do get it, they are encouraged to wash your hands well and stay away from other people,” Hasselback said.

“People should be generous, but not with their germs and the flu can spread very quickly.”