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Castlegar braces for third wave of Swine Flu

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
November 18th, 2009

This, the second, wave of the Swine Flu pandemic is winding up in Castlegar – but there’s a third wave yet to come, according to officials.

Cheryl Whittleton, team leader of emergency in Castlegar and flu coordinator for IHA staff in the Kootenay Boundary, said in an interview yesterday that the cases of H1N1 presenting at the local emergency ward are tapering off.

“We’ve seen, on average, 10 to 15 patients a say with flu-like symptoms… on top of our usual average of about 25 to 35 patients a day (with other complaints),” she said, adding that number peaked last week and has now dwindled to as few as two cases a day in the past few days.

The Castlegar facility weathered “wave two” of the pandemic well, with no medical or nursing staff falling ill from H1N1 (“tap wood,” she said), since all had been immunized at the earliest possible date, but janitorial staff have had to serve overtime to manage the influx of patients.

“We haven’t needed extra (medical) staff,” she said. “What the huge impact has been, for us, has been in cleaning. We have a private, dedicated room for H1N1 patients, and it has to be terminally cleaned every time it’s used.”

A separate waiting room for those with flu-like symptoms has helped, but the cleaning burden remains enormous as staff try to limit the potential for contagion…and experts are predicting a third wave of Swine Flu before the end of the year.

Whittleton reminded residents to use discernment when deciding whether to head to the emergency ward for the flu – most would be better served by staying at home in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, and generally just doing what they’d normally do after contracting seasonal flu.

“Being around people who are contagious increases your risk of contracting the virus,” she said, adding those in doubt should call HealthLink at 8-1-1 to help determine whether a hospital visit is really the best call.

As for whether all the patients have H1N1 – that seems likely, since the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has confirmed there’s no other virus making the rounds.

“They stopped testing (for H1N1) about a month ago,” Whittleton said. “All of the swabs had to go to the B.C. CDC in Vancouver, and they were swamped. All the swabs were coming back positive for H1N1, and no other virus has been isolated so far, including seasonal flu. So there was no point (in continued testing).”

So now Castlegar staff are gearing up for what they hope will be the final wave of the H1N1 pandemic.

“It is declining slowly, and that’s good news … but they do say there’s a third wave coming, and we’re preparing for that,” she said.

And just to add to the festivities, after Swine Flu makes its rounds, regular flu season will be upon us, and health officials are reminding residents to remain vigilant in preventative behaviours such as hand-washing and disinfecting oft-touched surfaces.

For more information on influenza, and its symptoms, prevention and treatment, visit www.interiorhealth.com

Categories: General

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