Flu outbreak declared at HSC Children's Hospital

Health officials are urging Winnipeggers to wash their hands and get their flu shot after the Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital declared a flu outbreak on one of their units.

Health officials urge hand-washing and flu shots this holiday season

The Health Sciences Centre Children's Hospital has declared a flu outbreak after 3 confirmed cases were found there in the past week. (CBC)

Health officials are urging Winnipeggers to wash their hands and get their flu shot after the Health Sciences Centre Children's Hospital declared a flu outbreak on one of their units.

This past week, the children's hospital has had three confirmed cases of flu on a unit that has 15 admitted patients; it's considered an outbreak after two. 

Staff on one unit are taking extra precautions, including ensuring visitors wear masks in patient care areas, making sure the sick patients are grouped together and increasing their level of flu screening with other patients.

Cases of influenza have continued to spike each day for the past 10 days, said Lori Lamont, acting chief operating officer and vice-president of nursing and allied health for the WRHA.

"How much it will spread is the thing we don't know. The levels we're seeing this week are as high as the levels we saw last year during the entire flu season," she said.

"We continue to monitor for new levels every day."

Now, there have been "well over" 100 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in people admitted to Winnipeg hospitals, she said. This particular strain of flu virus, which appears to be more severe than it has been in previous years, is having a moderate impact on the community so far, she said.

"Alberta and Saskatchewan have had fairly significant outbreaks with larger numbers of quite ill people so we anticipate that that may be what we'll anticipate to see here in Winnipeg over the next week or so," she said.

She's urging all Winnipeggers to get the free flu shot from their family doctor, public health nurse or pharmacy, despite some evidence in Western Canada suggesting that it's not as effective this year as it has been in past years.

"It remains an important tool in our arsenal to keep both you, and your loved ones healthy as it may still reduce the impact of the virus if not prevent it altogether.

Symptoms of flu include cough, congestion, fever, aches, chills and fatigue, and usually can be managed at home with rest and fluids, she said.  But if the symptoms last longer than one to two days, she suggests calling Health Links, or seeing a family physician.

The emergency department should be the next step if the symptoms continue to worsen, but Lamont said prevention is always the best way to fight it.

If you're sick, stay home: doctor

"It's washing your hands, not getting out in crowds when you are feeling unwell," she said.

Babies, young children, seniors and those with underlying health conditions remain most at risk for flu, and hospitalizations for flu, she added.

"Don't visit loved ones in hospital, or personal care homes, if you're feeling ill," said Dr. Terry Klassen, medical director of the WRHA child health program.

"Most importantly though: wash your hands and don't share food or personal items with people who are sick. Frequent hand washing, especially after touching your face, your child's face, another person who is ill, is the best way to prevent spreading germs."

Lamont said over-capacity areas are already being used in some hospitals, and hospitals will continue to discharge patients as soon as they're safe to be discharged home to make extra space.