By Joanne McQuarrie

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In a season when colds and the flu circulate frequently among people, Dr. Stefanie Mclellan, chief of staff at the Invermere and District Hospital, urges folks to be cautious and take measures against contracting infection.

“If there’s something we learned from COVID, it’s that all the measures in place at its peak are incredibly effective at preventing viral infections,” Mclellan said.

“In those two years (with) he number of cases of influenza – it was remarkable in that it was almost absent – basically no influenza.” That’s when masking and social distancing were the ‘new normal’.

But, Mclellan said, “This year it’s a different story.” There’s less masking in public, less social distancing, she noted. “People are tired of that, understandably, but this year it’s coming back with a vengeance. We have a lot of (cases) of the flu, and we’re still seeing a fair bit of COVID. RSV – there’s a fair amount of that,” Mclellan said, and explained people any age can contract RSV “but it’s more problematic in younger children. Children have smaller airways; it gets obstructed with swelling and secretions.

Generally, taking measures against the flu and other viruses is important, Mclellan emphasized. “Masking is an individual decision. It is mandatory in health care settings. If you, or someone you live with is at increased risk of complications actions from COVID or flu, consider wearing a mask. To reduce the risk of infection, avoid crowded places and make gatherings smaller.”

Additionally, Mclellan said, “With the higher number of flu cases this year, we recommend people get a flu shot.”

She suggested people who are feeling under the weather do serial rapid COVID testing: “If the first (test) is negative, repeat it several days thereafter as the rapid COVID test can be falsely negative for the first few days.”

Mclellan pointed out, “The symptoms are often identical between COVID and influenza. For most young and healthy people – most people don’t need specific treatment.” If you’re feeling sick, Mclellan recommended staying at home, staying away from others.

But, she added, if elderly folks or those with chronic health conditions such as COPD or asthma or pregnant women get sick, “they should get tested to see what kind of virus it is. They will benefit from treatment. Also, if you develop shortness of breath, can’t keep down fluids, or have chest pains, come to the ER to get checked out.”

Mclellan said not as much PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is done these days but noted, “If you’re sick enough to be admitted, you will get a PCR test – it’s for any virus. It helps with identifying COVID, RSV, influenza.”

As well, she noted, “It’s not too late to get a flu shot and a COVID booster.”

You can get both shots at the same time. For the first year, Mclellan said, flu and COVID shots are free for people of all ages. Adults can get both shots at the Lambert-Kipp Pharmacy Ltd. and Pharmasave Invermere.  

“The health department is booking vaccinations for those from six months to 11 years; they have lots of spaces in January,” Mclellan said. “That includes COVID and influenza shots.”  She noted flu mist is available for “…children who are afraid of needles. “It’s a spray that goes in the nose.”