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GIS mapping and Flu Outbreak April 29, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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Fewer influenza outbreaks have occurred at Niagara Region’s long-term care facilities this flu season.

The public health department gears up for flu season in November and typically wraps up its campaign by the end of April. Throughout that time, residents are encouraged to get free flu vaccines and, to help stop the spread of the virus, wash hands thoroughly.

“We had very few institutional outbreaks,” said Lois Lacroix, manager of the infectious diseases division.

Last year, there were 112 confirmed cases of influenza A and B, said Lacroix.

According to public health’s online weekly flu mapping report, as of yesterday, there have been 47 laboratory-confirmed cases of Influenza A and 56 laboratory confirmed cases of Influenza B in Niagara this current flu season.

Lacroix said the relatively low number could be attributed to a number of factors.

It could be because of education and awareness that people are not visiting long-term care facilities when feeling ill.

It could be that people are paying closer attention to the importance of hand washing. Viruses can live on surfaces for up to two days. Cleaning hands regularly and properly is the most effective measure to reduce the spread of illness.

People should also cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or upper sleeve — not hands, so the germs are less likely to spread.

The number of influenza cases fluctuates from year to year, said Lacroix. About five years ago, the health department was seeing many cases early in the season.

“The last couple of years it’s been later in the season,” she said, adding that cases have started showing up in late December and early January.

While flu season may almost be over, the health department still encourages people “to continue hand washing,” said Lacroix, because it is still the best method of reducing the spread of illness.

At 10 flu vaccine clinics held by the region, about 7,000 people got a flu shot. The department also shipped about 151,000 doses to Niagara physicians and family health-care teams, some of which had clinics of their own, said Donna Kalailieff, manager of vaccines and preventable diseases. The number of doses sent out was slightly higher than in past years, but still nowhere near reaching the regional population of 430,000.

Kalailieff said some studies at this point suggest not enough infants and children are getting the flu vaccine.

“It’s an education piece … we are constantly trying to give them the facts,” she said.

New this year was the rollout of the region’s latest database — it maps out who has had the vaccine, as well as indicates through GIS mapping what areas of the communities have received vaccines.

At each of the region’s clinics, people with a health card or driver’s licence had their cards swiped to be entered into the database.

It will be used for pandemic preparedness and is a “wonderful piece of new technology,” said Kalailieff.

“People were very receptive.”

Wait times at this year’s clinic were reduced from two hours to about 20 minutes.

“It made our clinics run much more smoothly.”

Of the influenza strains detected in Canada to date, 60% have been influenza A and 40% influenza B.

A total of 1,293 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A and 1,429 cases of influenza B have been reported province-wide.

This information is based on the latest Ontario influenza bulletin from the Ministry of Health for the week of April 5 to April 11.

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