A one-two punch of flu, norovirus making people sick

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia-Lambton has had 78 confirmed cases of influenza and three elderly people have died from flu this winter, Lambton Public Health reports.

And while it may seem as though more friends and coworkers are sick than usual, it’s been a pretty typical flu season so far, officials say.

Four long-term care facilities in Sarnia-Lambton have reported influenza outbreaks this winter — two in the city and two in the county. Currently, one facility is taking precautions due to an outbreak, said Chad Ikert, Lambton’s manager of health protection.

“We know there are a lot more people that get the flu and don’t go to the doctor to have it confirmed by a lab,” he said.

“So they deal with it at home and it doesn’t get reported to us.”

What’s different about this winter is an outbreak of norovirus. While the flu is a respiratory illness, norovirus brings nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain.

Add that to the number of people suffering from bad colds and there’s an explanation for high absenteeism reported at some schools and workplaces.

Last month was the worst so far, Ikert said.

“Almost all cases of the flu were confirmed in January. Now we think we’ve peaked and are on the downswing, but we could continue to see cases until early spring,” he said.

The 2016 flu season from September to March resulted in seven flu deaths in Sarnia-Lambton. In total, 90 cases were confirmed last year and three long-term care facilities reported outbreaks.

“We’re having a typical season that’s very similar to 2016,” said Ikert. It may seem bad right now because of the surge in January and all the attention given to influenza outbreaks south of the border, he added.

Lambton Public Health offers flu shots to help control influenza, which is particularly hard on the elderly, the very young and anyone with pre-existing health problems.

This year’s vaccine clinics attracted 1,200 people, and an as-yet undocumented number got flu shots at 31 area pharmacies and doctor offices.

The local vaccination rate remains fairly consistent, Ikert said.

The most serious strain showing up is Influenza A subtype H3N2. The 2017-18 vaccine included H3H2 and provides good protection against it, he said.

But a B strain that is nearly as prevalent isn’t as well matched by the shot.

“But even if it is not a perfect match, the shot will help cut down on the number of days you’re ill,” he said.  “It lessens the symptoms.”

The flu season has at least two months to go so it’s not too late to get vaccinated, Ikert added.

“Just remember, it takes two weeks for the body to build up protection. People who say they get sick from the shot are coming down with something before they get it,” he said.

The flu shot is still available from local pharmacies, family doctors and by appointment at the health unit.