June 19th, 2024

‘Triple whammy’ of respiratory illnesses circulating in city

By Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2023.

Alberta Health Services says Influenza A (H3N2), COVID, and RSV are making the rounds this winter with hospitals like Chinook Regional seeing an increase with patients contracting the viruses. Herald file photo
Ry Clarke – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Holidays make for a great time to gather with loved ones and family, toasting over holiday meals as we come together. But another thing the season brings with it might not be what anyone wanted for Christmas — a respiratory virus. 

Influenza A (H3N2), COVID, and RSV are making the rounds this winter with hospitals like Chinook Regional seeing an increase with patients contracting the viruses. 

“Hospitals across the province and country are seeing increased demand as we see more respiratory illness and more patients with severe illness. It is no different in Lethbridge. We’re seeing more individuals with higher health care needs. Like other jurisdictions, we’re also dealing with some staffing challenges. Challenges with available bed spaces or capacity in hospital is not a new issue,” reads a statement from Alberta Health Services provided to the Herald.

With health care seeing an influx, AHS is helping spread awareness for prevention to ease the volume in hospitals. 

“We still have those trio of respiratory illnesses circulating,” said Doctor Vivien Suttorp, Medical Officer of Health for South Zone with Alberta Health Services. “Influenza A, H3N2, is the predominant strain, which typically impacts very young and the elderly the most. We still have COVID circulating, and RSV which primarily impacts the very young children but also can impact seniors.”

Suttorp mentions the viruses do circulate this time of year due to seasonal gatherings, which make it hard to predict the virus’s effect on health care systems. 

“The triple threat, or triple whammy, we are still in that. Although those numbers are, even before Christmas, those numbers are slowing down. Christmas, people get together a bit more, so it is a little difficult at this point still to see where that will go. Historically we have a peak of influenza season, then sometimes we have a little second wave, and sometimes the peak is usually, before COVID times, sort of in the middle-late January of the year.”

Hoping to ease intake at medical centers, health experts are asking people to take preventative measures to avoid getting sick. 

“It is never too late to be preventive. The good news is that they are all the same preventive measures for all the respiratory viruses,” said Suttorp. “First things first, stay home when you are sick. Wash your hands, if you have surfaces in your house that are touched by many people, clean them off. Immunization works very well, we have immunizations for COVID, as well as influenza.”

Spreading awareness and not germs, strategies help for staying healthy and safe, while avoiding missing out on the start of a new year. 

“I like to say there is a toolkit, and it has a number of different strategies and people have an option to choose from that toolkit,” said Suttorp. “Immunization is one, ensuring immunizations are up to date. Ensuring people are healthy and making sure you have overall general health. Not necessarily avoiding large gatherings, children go to school, people go to work, but taking caution. The most important piece within this social part is staying home when you are sick. Do not send your children to school when they have active symptoms of a respiratory infection.”

Staying healthy and hearty, prevention is key to avoiding the seasonal sickness. 

“In general prevention in any preventive strategy, be it cancer screening or healthy physical activity or healthy nutrition, we are preventing chronic diseases,” said Suttorp. “Respiratory illnesses are not just due to viruses, it can be bacteria, it can be other agents. Be very aware with increasing travel and make sure that all immunizations are up to date. We have very low immunization rates in southern Alberta, so ensuring that your immunizations are up to date for all vaccines is a strong recommendation from public health.”

Parents in need of support for their children can visit the AHS Health, Education and Learning website at http://www.ahs.ca/heal. Or go to http://www.ahs.ca/options to learn more about options.

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