Parents taking their children back to school Monday should be prepared for their kids to bring home something extra: the flu.
The influenza season is in full swing and provincial medical officer of health Dr. Perry Kendall warns that the return to class could prompt a surge in infections.
“I think the peak might well come with back-to-school,” Kendall said Friday.
“As the children go back, and we know influenza circulates in the community, we could see a spike.
“Across Canada, we have seen an earlier onset of influenza this year and more cases than we would have this time last year.”
This year’s dominant flu bug is the H3N2 strain, and it’s particularly challenging for the elderly, said influenza expert Dr. Danuta Skow-ronski of the B.C. Centres for Disease Control.
“In general, H3N2 subtype viruses tend to be more severe,” Skowronski said, adding that “whenever we have H3N2, we see a greater mortality in the elderly.”
The latest BCCDC influenza surveillance bulletin notes influenza cases rose in B.C. from Dec. 16 to 29.
Children have also been hard hit: Visits to B.C. Children’s Hospital’s emergency department for flu-like symptoms “increased sharply” compared to previous weeks, the report stated.
Kendall said those affected will feel “like they have been hit by a truck” with sore throats, coughs, fever and muscle aches that can last 10 days.
To prevent the spread of infection, he stressed the importance of frequent handwashing and coughing into a sleeve, plus staying home when you are ill.
Those infected can start shedding the virus 24 hours before showing symptoms, Kendall said, and remain infectious for at least 10 days.
Fortunately, the H3N2 strain was one of the strains - along with H1N1 and a B-virus strain - included in this year’s flu vaccination, so getting the flu shot should offer some immunity.
Kendall advised that, even if your child has not been vaccinated, “there is still time” as the flu season generally lasts through to the end of March.
However, he advised that it takes about two weeks post-vaccination for immunity to build.
By Elaine O’Connor, The Province