Friday January 13, 2023 | VANCOUVER, BC [Updated Jan 15, 2023]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
The usual basic tips about managing respiratory season were summarized today by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry in her first full media session in 2023. She and Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed media from the BC government’s Vancouver Cabinet Office at 12:30 pm.
Three-part respiratory season:
Respiratory season of course now includes COVID, along with influenza (flu) and RSV. COVID came on the scene in late 2019, with the pandemic declared in March 2020.
Testing of all incoming patients with “medically necessary tests” (i.e. to make a difference in their medical treatment) is by multiplex PCR, covering for COVID, RSVP, influenza A, B and para-influenza, the PHO said today.
There is also now more data on people who are in ICU in hospital, about outbreaks, and through physician’s offices, said Dr Henry.
Testing from all cases in hospitals, from doctor’s offices (community), and outbreaks are indicating what strains of COVID are in the community.
“We’ve never had the capacity to watch a virus change in almost real time,” said Dr Henry, marveling at the power of what information and trends that the range and depth of data can now provide.
Whole genome sequencing:
All respiratory illness samples are put through whole genome sequencing (WGS) which is helping track the changes in viral activity.
The WGS tests help “to see if something is emerging”, Dr Henry said.
WGS is the process of determining the entirety, or nearly the entirety, of the DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time.
Influenza lower than usual now:
“This has been a very unusual year,” said Dr Henry, with regard to the cycle of influenza. In pre-pandemic years, usually the incidence of influenza was still high in January and stretched into March.
This year, influenza is at about 5% of test-positive cases (week of January 1 to 7), significantly down from 27% in late November 2022.
Flu did get off to an early start in fall 2022, primarily because a lot of people (particularly children) hadn’t been exposed to the influenza virus during the first two years of the pandemic.
RSV & COVID data:
Meanwhile, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) remains high, while COVID-19 has remained relatively stable.
From January 1 to 7, there were 661 new cases of COVID-19 reported. To date, there have been 24 confirmed cases of the XBB.1.5 variant detected. XBB.1.5 is the latest variant of Omicron (which is a variant of the original SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 inflection).
Wastewater surveillance started with testing for COVID, and now also includes testing for influenza and RSV. Dr Henry was excited today about the expansion of that data source.
“We’ve had very little on RSV in the past,” Dr Henry said today. RSV impacts in particular infants and young children.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is doing wastewater surveillance at the Vancouver International Airport — including from incoming flights arriving from China — “adds another piece to what’s happening with changes over time”, she said.
The BCCDC has been performing wastewater surveillance in the Lower Mainland and is adding testing sites in the Interior Health and Island Health regions. Data collected from these new sites will soon be available on the BCCDC respiratory diseases data page, it was announced today.
Today Dr Henry and Minister Dix reminded the media and public about the significant impact that COVID vaccination is having on keeping people out of hospital and reducing deaths.
Dix commended pharmacists for “a real achievement” in administering COVID vaccines, which are “done on at a time”. He said that the efforts of pharmacists have been extremely successful. They have “done exceptional work this fall in getting people the prescriptions they need, and giving vaccinations”.
Tips for respiratory season:
Today BC’s top doctor offered the usual tips for managing through respiratory season (which now includes COVID as well as flu and RSV):
- postpone meetings and avoid contact with others if you’re sick,
- wear a mask in crowded/indoor spaces (N95 if particularly vulnerable),
- get the COVID booster shot (the latest bivalent is recommended) and flu shot,
- use treatments for COVID and flu.
Minister Dix asked people to “keep doing what we know works”.
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Island Social Trends is a professional news service that covers news of the west shore, south Vancouver Island, BC and national issues with a socioeconomic lens.
Island Social Trends launched entirely online at islandsocialtrends.ca in mid-2020, in the footsteps of its predecessor publications MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013) and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020), all by Editor and publisher: Mary P Brooke, B.Sc.
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