BCCDC reporting elevated levels of influenza and respiratory infections
B.C. is experiencing elevated influenza and RSV activity, similar to levels experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic. In children, influenza activity is at the highest levels since the start of this respiratory season, serving as a reminder for families to take proactive steps to reduce their risk of serious illness.
The BC Centre for Disease and Control (BCCDC) has received two reports of influenza-associated deaths among children (under the age of 19) in British Columbia (B.C.). These deaths occurred in the past two weeks and are the only influenza-related deaths in children that BCCDC is aware of to date during this respiratory season. Our thoughts are with the families and communities affected by the loss of a loved one.
Early findings indicate the two children experienced secondary bacterial infections contributing to severe illness which can be a complication of influenza.
This year’s influenza vaccine appears to be well matched to the influenza viruses circulating in B.C. Getting immunized is the best way to prevent serious illness. Vaccination is particularly important for children at highest risk of severe outcomes including:
- Children with chronic medical conditions such as: heart or lung disorders that require regular medical care, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or cystic fibrosis.
- Children with kidney disease, chronic liver disease such as hepatitis, diabetes, cancer, anemia or weakened immune system.
- Children with health conditions causing difficulty breathing, swallowing or a risk of choking on food or fluids, such as people with severe brain damage, spinal cord injury, seizures or neuromuscular disorders.
- Children and teenagers required to take Aspirin® or ASA for long periods of time due to a medical condition.
- Children who are very overweight
- Infants and toddlers
There are a number of steps families can take to reduce their risk of serious infection from respiratory viruses and to prevent others from becoming ill.
- Get immunized – this is the best way to prevent serious illness
- Influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are available to all children aged 6 months and older. Everyone registered with the Get Vaccinated system will receive an invitation to book an appointment to get immunized.
- Stay at home if you’re feeling sick
- If you have any symptoms of respiratory illness and must leave your home, practice respiratory etiquette:
- Wear a mask in indoor public spaces
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Clean your hands regularly
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose
- If you’re sick, stay away from people at higher risk of serious illness
Seeking care for respiratory infections
Most children with influenza and other respiratory viruses recover safely at home without the need for medical intervention. For children at high risk of severe complications, parents should consider talking to their care provider about early access to an influenza anti-viral drug called oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is most effective against influenza if started within 12 hours, and ideally not later than 48 hours after illness onset.
Parents and caregivers of children who experience any symptoms of concern, such as difficulty breathing or fever in a child under three months of age, should seek immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 for an ambulance or visit your nearest emergency department or urgent and primary care centre, if available in your community.
In addition to monitoring for respiratory infections, the BCCDC and BC Children’s Hospital issued an information bulletin on December 22, 2023 about a rise in infections from invasive group A streptococcal (iGAS) bacteria in people under age 20, noting a progressive increase in annual infections since 2016.
If you are unsure whether your child requires emergency care, speak to your healthcare provider such as a family doctor, nurse practitioner or walk-in clinic provider. Caregivers can also call HealthLinkBC at 8-1-1 for free healthcare guidance, available 24/7. The BC Children’s Hospital website offers information on when to seek emergency care based on your child’s symptoms.
- HealthLinkBC: Respiratory illnesses
- Province of B.C.: Influenza (flu) vaccine
- BC Children’s Hospital: When to seek emergency care and when to find alternative options
- BC Centre for Disease Control: Respiratory virus data trends (next update: January 4, 2023)
The BC Centre for Disease Control, a part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides public health leadership through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance, and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. The BCCDC also provides health promotion and prevention services to reduce the burden of chronic disease, preventable injury and environmental health risks. For more, visit www.bccdc.ca or follow us @CDCofBC.
The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) provides specialized health care services and programs to communities across British Columbia, the territories of many distinct First Nations. We are grateful to all the First Nations who have cared for and nurtured this land for all time, including the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səlil̓w̓ətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations on whose unceded and ancestral territory our head office is located. We work in partnership with other B.C. health authorities and the provincial government to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca or follow us @PHSAofBC.