The flu has knocked Okanagan residents into their beds earlier than previous years, and an outbreak of Norovirus has infected patients at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
The predominant strain of influenza this year is different from the H1N1 circulating in the Valley since 2009. The H3N2 virus is peaking right now and has caused seven respiratory-disease outbreaks in residential-care facilities across the Interior since Dec. 22.
"It's certainly earlier than we have seen for the last few years," said Dr. Andrew Larder,
the senior medical health officer for Interior Health. "But when you look at the historical numbers, it's pretty much the pattern we've seen."
The Norovirus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, has generated outbreaks at VJH as well as schools and residential-care homes in the Okanagan. Larder didn't specify which schools and care facilities were affected, but he said
13 outbreaks have been recorded across the Southern Interior.
"We're experiencing a pretty typical winter vomiting season," he said. "This one is slightly different from previous strains, so people won't have a pre-existing immunity from past exposure. There's a greater risk of getting infected with it."
The Norovirus outbreak at the Vernon hospital lasted four days and ended this week. Hospital staff followed standard protocol, Larder said.
Noroviruses are different from the flu. The people most vulnerable are the elderly and infants because they're less able to tolerate being dehydrated. The symptoms, which may include abdominal pain, fever and muscle aches, usually last 24 to 48 hours.
The onset of this year's influenza strain began in early December - weeks earlier than the H1N1 that has dominated previous flu seasons - and will remain steady until mid- to late-February.
Before the Christmas break, schools in Penticton and Vernon reported more than 10 per cent of students were absent due to respiratory infections. We'll likely see more schools reporting high levels of absenteeism once classes resume next week, Larder said.
"We're really on the up-slope. But I expect we'll be peaking in the next week or so and it will stay at or around that level for several more weeks."
The illness usually causes coughing, a runny nose, sore throat, fever and muscle aches. The good news is this year's strain matches the virus used to generate the vaccine.
Those who haven't been immunized should consider it, Larder said. It may take two weeks for your immunity to develop, but the season is expected to linger for six to eight weeks.