Flu positivity hits 5 per cent as COVID and RSV strain Hamilton

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Published December 27, 2023 at 3:41 pm

A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2013.

More than five per cent of Hamiltonians now have the flu according to the city’s public health service, signalling the proper beginning of the viral season. This comes amid a similar rise in RSV and COVID-19 cases which continues to strain the healthcare system.

Hamilton broke the news on Dec. 27 which they said signalled the proper beginning of the 2023-2024 flu season. The city says influenza A has caused several outbreaks in “high priority” settings and COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is spreading around Hamilton.

As a result the city health service has called on everyone over six months old to get their vaccines, including an updated flu shot and a COVID booster if it’s been more than six months since their last one. While anyone over five years old can pretty much get their COVID shot at any pharmacy, the child vaccine for those six months to five years old may not be available everywhere. Parents should call ahead to ensure their pharmacy has the right vaccines.

There are also RSV vaccines for those over 60 years old. They’re provided through long-term care homes, retirement homes or healthcare providers to;

  • residents of long-term care homes and retirement homes providing dementia care
  • hospitalized patients awaiting placement
  • dialysis and transplant patients
  • Indigenous people
  • people experiencing homelessness

If someone of high risk (those over 65 years of age, pregnant people and those with underlying medical conditions) contracts the flu, the city recommends they seek medical care to get anti-viral medication.

“Early antiviral therapy is particularly important for people living in congregate living settings, including long-term-care homes. Having antiviral prescriptions in advance helps prevent delays in starting therapy during potential influenza outbreaks for both staff and residents,” the city wrote, “Initiation of therapy should not wait for laboratory confirmation of influenza.”

“Now is the time to ensure you have up-to-date protection against COVID-19 and influenza leading into the holiday season. This is important both for yourself, as well as your loved ones, particularly those who might be older or higher risk,” said Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Lew.

“I encourage all Hamiltonians to take the opportunity to talk to your loved ones to remind them of the importance of COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations and support them to get out to get these vaccines,” he continued.

There hasn’t been an update from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) regarding their capacity levels this week. However, their update from last week indicated significant strain. Three of their four hospitals were above 100 per cent capacity with the fourth just barely below it;

  • Hamilton General Hospital – 105 per cent
  • Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre 1 110 per cent
  • McMaster Children’s Hospital – 97 per cent
  • West Lincoln Memorial Hospital – 126 per cent

At that time there were 100 admitted COVID-19 patients, seven in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This is a significant jump from the previous update which reported 80 COVID-19 patients.

This viral spike and long-running province-wide staffing shortage led to the closure of the West End Urgent Care Centre at 690 Main St. on Dec. 25 and Jan 1. “We recognize the impact that such difficult decisions may have on our patients and their families. We thank everyone for their patience and understanding,” HHS wrote at the time, “We sincerely appreciate the work of all our staff and physicians to support patients and their families at this very trying time.”

However, there are still numerous options for healthcare services over the holidays. HHS hospitals “want to ensure everyone in our community stays safe and healthy this holiday season. We understand health concerns don’t take a holiday. As wait times for care are higher than usual, patients and their families should know that there are many options for care in our community,” they wrote.

“Staff and physicians continue to go the extra mile to care for those in need. We are here to take care of our community.”

The emergency rooms at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH), Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and McMaster Children all remain open. However, given the flood of patients seeking emergency care, there may be a very long wait for non-emergency patients.

The West End clinic is still open from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day except New Year’s Day. The King Campus clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day including Jan. 1. St. Joseph also offers a virtual clinic for non-life-threatening issues that still require urgent attention.

 

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