B.C. hits record for hospital admissions as flu and RSV cases rise

Health Fitness

Health officials say Influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are both on the rise in B.C., and hospitals in the province are treating a record number of patients as the respiratory illness season nears its peak.

Speaking at her first public briefing of the new year, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it’s common to see a spike in illness from respiratory viruses soon after the holiday season.

“We will continue to see high rates of influenza and RSV for the next few weeks. I expect if it follows the pattern that we’ve seen before that we may have a peak in the next week or so,” said Henry. “COVID-19 activity, on the other hand, remains stable and has been decreasing since early November.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix told Wednesday’s briefing that 10,435 people were in hospital as of Tuesday night, the most the province has ever seen. He described it as a “time of challenge” for the heath-care system, but added that hospitals could “absolutely” handle the surge.

Henry said emergency departments have been particularly busy seeing young people.

“While we’re not seeing as much respiratory illnesses … as in other parts of Canada and the world where immunization rates are lower, it is a reminder of the importance of vaccinations and healthy habits in limiting the impact on ourselves, our families, our communities and our health-care system,” she said. 

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Dr. Bonnie Henry says influenza A is the most prominent respiratory infection circulating in January.

Last week, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said a third child under the age of 10 had died with flu being a contributing factor but not necessarily the primary cause of death. Henry said none of the three had been vaccinated against influenza and all developed a secondary bacterial infection.

“I think this is really important. It is so sad and tragic when we know that young people can be protected from these infections. We know that any respiratory virus can cause an inflammation in the lungs that makes you more susceptible to having bacterial infections,” she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. hospitals have capacity to deal with a surge if more people get sick in the coming weeks.

“Absolutely we do,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging, it is very challenging. The prevalence of illness in society is reflected in the health-care community as well … There’s hundreds of thousands of health-care workers in B.C. province but 18,000 of them missed about one day in [the past week] because of illness.”

According to Dix, B.C. has the highest rate of flu and COVID-19 vaccination in North America.

As of Jan. 9, 1.519 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered so far this flu season, and 1.390 million doses of COVID-19 booster vaccines.

Henry said a recent survey shows that 83 per cent of people in the Lower Mainland have some level of immunity against COVID-19, either through infection or vaccination. That’s an increase of 10 per cent from the same time last year.

She said studies show that hybrid immunity gained by those who have been both vaccinated and infected with COVID-19 is resulting in better health outcomes. 

“This hybrid immunity gives more durable and longer lasting protection, particularly against severe outcomes,” she said.

“I think we’re seeing some of that reflected in the levels of hospitalization that are lower now than they have been in the past.”

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