Three dead after influenza outbreak at aged care facility

An influenza outbreak that killed three people at the Bulkley Lodge nursing home this month has been contained.

An influenza outbreak that killed three people at the Bulkley Lodge nursing home this month has been contained, according to Northern Health.

The deceased were among nine people infected with the virus at the long-term care facility from Feb. 5-15.

Family and friends of the lodge’s 67 residents were asked not to visit during the outbreak unless they had up-to-date flu vaccines.

Group activities were also cancelled and lower doses of preventative anti-viral treatment were given to other residents.

Northern Health will not conduct an official investigation into whether the deaths could have been prevented but northwest medical officer Dr. Raina Fumerton said the facility had protocols for responding to an outbreak.

Increased cleaning of the facility, isolation of sick people and visitation restrictions were among the precautionary measures taken.

“They’re a very vulnerable group and that’s why we really encourage precautionary measures and doing the best that we can to prevent influenza from getting into those facilities given the compromised immune status of the elders that are in those facilities,” Fumerton said.

There were no influenza-related deaths in the Northern Health region last winter.

However, B.C. Centre for Disease Control deputy provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said deaths from outbreaks were common.

“The people who are in long-term care homes are people who have both medical conditions and by virtue of their age are must more at risk of having severe cases of influenza so every time we have outbreaks in long-term care we do see deaths,” she said.

Henry said the elderly were also more susceptible to this winter’s dominant influenza strain: H3N2.

“The one thing we know about this strain is that for reasons that we aren’t entirely clear on, older people tend to get more severe illness with it and tend to be affected by it,” she said.

Flu vaccines were not as effective against H3N2 compare with other strains of influenza, she added.

But Henry stressed the importance of the wider community being vaccinated to help stop the virus spreading.

“Older people with long-term chronic illnesses tend not to respond as well to the vaccine so the very people that are most vulnerable and need the protection don’t get as good a response as young healthy people,” she said.

“As young healthy people … we can do our best to be immunized and to keep it away from those who are most vulnerable.”

Northern Health spokesperson Jonathon Dyck praised the staff at Bulkley Lodge for their work containing the outbreak.

“At Bulkley Lodge we continued the outbreak declaration for a period of time after it appeared to be contained to ensure it did not spread further,” he said.

“The staff work extremely hard to contain these outbreaks, and we would like to thank them for their hard work.”

He added Northern Health tracked influenza outbreaks to ensure it was improving its practices as needed.

“We’re always trying to learn and look at these types of situations and make sure that we are improving our practices not just here in northern B.C. but across the province and nation as well,” he said.

There were 145 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in the Northern Health region in the winter of 2013/2014, and 136 in 2012/2013.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, between two to 8,000 people die annually from influenza and about 20,000 are hospitalized.