Saskatoon – It's about to be a busy holiday and post-holiday season for healthcare workers as they prepare for an increase in influenza cases.
To date, 87 cases of influenza have been reported in the Region, including nine hospitalizations. Almost half of those cases were reported over the last week, indicating the predicted peak of flu activity will be in about three to four weeks.
"Vaccination, combined with diligent hand washing, is the best way to lower your risk of getting influenza," says Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Deputy Medical Health Officer for the Saskatoon Health Region. "Seasonal influenza poses a serious health risk to many people, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or other chronic health conditions, as well as their caregivers."
While mass immunization clinics may be over, public health officials continue to encourage everyone to get immunized. This comes on the heels of the release of the 2015 Reportable Disease Report, which shows during 2011 to 2015, over 2000 cases of influenza were reported, making up 86 per cent of all vaccine preventable disease in our region. The report also describes and tracks the rates and risks for other reportable diseases like tuberculosis, antibiotic-resistant organisms, like MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), other dangerous conditions like animal bites, and outbreaks.
Last year, one in five individuals with lab-confirmed influenza was hospitalized. A total of 125 individuals were reported; however, this number underestimates the true impact of influenza disease on our community, as many more individuals attended our emergency departments or were even hospitalized for influenza related complications such as pneumonia.
The report also illustrates the impact of an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in 2015 on the city of Saskatoon, as well as the communities of Rosthern, Humboldt, Watrous and Wadena.
"Vaccination is the safest and single most effective way to protect yourself and your family from vaccine preventable diseases, including influenza," says Dr. Opondo. "Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria spread by coughing and direct contact with droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person. The bacteria spreads easily when people are in close contact with others, such as in homes, classrooms and childcare centres, when basic preventative measures are not observed. That is why we can't stress enough the importance of both vaccination and hand washing."
Hand washing becomes even more critical with non-vaccine preventable illnesses such as norovirus and other gastro-intestinal illnesses which can cause diarrhea and vomiting, and can be present in the environment, on food and food prep areas, and are easily transmitted in gatherings of people, especially over the holidays.
Particularly during this season, and all year long, health officials encourage you to wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm, not your hand; avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands; stay home from work or school when you are sick, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that many people touch, such as door knobs, phones and television remotes.
Information on vaccines can be found on Saskatoon Health Region's website. Visit 4flu.ca for information on how to receive your flu shot.