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HPE health unit logs first local case of influenza

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Hastings Prince Edward Public Health is urging all residents to stay up to date on their influenza vaccinations after confirming its first case of influenza in the region.

Flu vaccines are available from health care providers or at pharmacies and HPEPH clinics and reduce the risk of severe illness, and helps protect the vulnerable, and our health care system.

In a public advisory, the HPE health unit said it has received laboratory confirmation of the first case of Influenza A for the 2023-24 flu season, reinforcing the importance of getting up to date with the annual influenza shot.

Influenza causes mild to severe illness and can lead to serious health complications, even in healthy children and adults. The influenza vaccine is available free of charge to anyone in Ontario over the age of six months.

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“Getting an annual influenza vaccination and updated COVID-19 vaccine is the best and easiest way to protect yourself, your loved ones, the vulnerable, and our health care system this respiratory season,” said Dr. Ethan Toumishey, MOH and CEO at HPEPH.

“Contact your local health care provider or a local pharmacy to get the flu shot as soon as possible, to help build your immunity before local rates of infection start to spike.”

With the knowledge that COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory viruses are circulating in the community, residents are reminded to:

  • Stay up to date with immunizations for flu, COVID-19 and RSV if eligible.
  • Stay home when you are sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces, and when recovering from illness. If you are attending a busy gathering or interacting with others, wearing a mask will reduce your risk of unknowingly spreading an infection to those you love. If you are recovering from illness, it is especially important to wear a mask for 10 days after your symptoms started.
  • Wash your hands often, clean high touch surfaces frequently, and cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue.
  • Protect our health care services. Doing what you can to limit the spread of illness will help ensure our health care workers are available for those who need them most.

For more flu information and clinics log on to hpePublicHealth.ca/influenza-clinic or for COVID-19 vaccination information, log on to hpePublicHealth.ca/vaccine-booking.

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Public Health Agency urges everyone to get their measles vaccines – CJWW

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The Public Health Agency of Canada is urging everyone to make sure they have their two doses of measles vaccine, especially before travelling. Global health authorities are reporting there was a significant increase in measles last year, and it continues to rise this year, due in part to a decline in measles vaccinations during the pandemic.

A news release from the Public Health Agency says measles is a highly contagious airborne virus that can cause serious disease. Anyone who is travelling internationally and isn’t vaccinated is at risk of being infected. There is a travel health notice for measles in all countries right now.

Symptoms of measles include fever, red watery eyes, runny nose, and cough followed by a red rash that starts on the face and then moves to the rest of the body. As of February 10th, there have been four cases of measles in the country.

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Kingston-area avian influenza confirmed as highly pathogenic variant – The Kingston Whig-Standard

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Dead bald eagle in Kingston tested positive for the virus

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As avian influenza continues to affect local wild bird populations, a Napanee wildlife centre has confirmed that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) variant of avian influenza has been identified in the Kingston region.

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According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the HPAI virus, also known as H5N1, was first discovered in Canada in 2021 and has since been found in wild birds in every province and territory.

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Leah Birmingham said Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre received confirmation from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) that the highly pathogenic version of the avian influenza virus has not only been discovered in dead Canada geese from Kingston, but also other scavenger species as well.

“They’ve now found it in a raven, a crow and (a bald) eagle,” Birmingham said on Friday. “That makes sense, because all of those birds would potentially feed off of the carcasses of dead Canada geese.”

Last week, Sandy Pines received four crows from Kingston showing neurological symptoms.

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“That’s often what you see,” she said. “The water birds typically show a variety of signs of a flu-like disease. But the birds that eat them seem to have more of the neurological signs, like seizures, and less of the upper respiratory ailments.”

In an interview earlier in February, Birmingham told the Whig-Standard that birds showing signs of the virus were being humanely euthanized to limit the risk of spread among the birds who live at or are being rehabilitated at the wildlife centre.

Birmingham said the centre has been sending bird carcasses to the CWHC for viral identification, but lately they’ve been told to stop.

“We’ve already shown positives in the scavenger species essentially,” Birmingham said. “So we know it’s in those bird populations as well.”

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But otherwise, Birmingham said that calls to the wildlife centre about sick birds are on the decline.

“The situation has died down a bit, and it’s just sort of in patches now, not the same intensity,” she said. “That’s a good sign.”

Still, it’s been a record-breaking year in the Kingston region for the virus, Birmingham said.

Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health told the Whig-Standard on Friday that as of Feb. 22, 12 birds had tested positive for avian influenza in the region, according to a summary report from the Ontario Ministry of Health.

Of those positive tests, eight of the birds were geese, three were crows and one was an eagle.

It’s not clear how many of those tested positive for the highly pathogenic variant.

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The CFIA, which monitors the spread of HPAI with a careful eye to Canada’s poultry industry, keeps a dashboard of active investigations and positive test results from across the country.

Since the end of January, five active outbreaks are under investigation in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec.

Max Kaiser, a commercial egg farmer in Greater Napanee, said he treats every wild bird on his property as if it were infected, taking precautions to protect his commercial flocks.

An infection within a commercial poultry flock can take an extreme financial toll on farmers.

“We take every precaution to keep everything out of the barn, whether it’s changing footwear, changing clothes, disinfecting tools, everything we can do to keep our barns clean from whatever’s outside,” he told the Whig-Standard on Friday. “That could be walking through bird droppings in the barnyards, to wild birds perching on the rooftop. It’s concerning at every level.”

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While Kaiser isn’t losing sleep over the presence of HPAI in the region, and while biosecurity measures are standard practice at Ontario poultry farms, he is taking extra precautions.

“It’s just diligence. Changing footwear is a simple one, but then when our suppliers, like our feed truck and the delivery vehicles, come and go from the barnyard, they have to disinfect, too, even the tires on the trucks as they come up the laneway,” he said.

Kaiser Lake Farms’ egg operation is located on the shores of Hay Bay, an inlet of Lake Ontario.

“Migratory birds are starting to migrate north again, so we’re ramping up,” Kaiser said. “I’m seeing geese in the fields now that weren’t there a week ago. Now that we’re seeing them, we’re back up to full precautions.”

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The Feather Board Command Centre, an organization that provides up-to-date information to Ontario poultry industry members about health risks to commercial bird populations, is recommending heightened biosecurity measures on all of the province’s poultry farms as HPAI moves across the country.

“Currently there are 37 active HPAI cases in Canadian provinces, affecting over 11 million birds,” it said in a news release on Feb. 2. “With the unseasonably warmer weather we have been experiencing, wild birds continue to be on the move and we are seeing increases in wild bird die-offs, increasing the potential risk of disease transmission.”

While HPAI has not been observed to infect humans, some mammals have tested positive for the virus, including raccoons, striped skunks, red foxes, cats and dogs, the CFIA stated on its website.

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“While HPAI is primarily a disease of birds, it can also infect mammals, especially those who hunt, scavenge or otherwise consume infected birds,” the agency wrote. “For example, cats that go outdoors may hunt and consume an infected bird, or dogs may scavenge dead birds. In 2023, a dog in Canada was infected with avian influenza after chewing on a wild goose, and died after developing clinical signs.”

KFL&A Public Health recommends on its website that people who discover dead birds on their property wear protective gear while handling bird carcasses, and either bury the bird at a minimum of one metre deep, or double bag and dispose of the carcass in the garbage. Those who discover a dead bird on public property should contact their municipality, the organization said.

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Birmingham said people should try, if they can, to bury the carcasses. This prevents the spread of the virus among other animal populations, as well as protect domestic pets that may come in contact with a dead bird.

Still, with its potential threat to both wild birds and commercial operations, Birmingham is urging people not to panic abut the virus.

“I don’t want the public to freak out about all wild birds,” she admitted. “There are all kinds of diseases that wildlife can be the reservoir for and carry. Some of them are manmade because of people bringing animals from one continent to another. And others happen naturally, because of high-density populations of animals … in a way this is nature’s way of sort of taking care of dense populations of animals, right?

“I just don’t want people to be so petrified that their dog or cat is going to get this virus because there were crows in their backyards. It’s not that simple.”

mbalogh@postmedia.com

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Interior Health concerned by rate of youth vaping – Arrow Lakes News

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Vaping has replaced smoking amongst South Cariboo teens.

These days it’s more common to see young people sneak a hit of their vape rather than light up a cigarette. It’s a trend that worries health professionals like Nicole Hargreaves and Jered Dennis, two of Interior Health’s Legal Substance Reduction coordinators.

“Really what we’ve seen in recent years is there has been an inverse relationship with smoking cigarettes, or commercial tobacco use, to vaping use. As cigarette use has been going down in communities, especially among youth, we’ve seen an uptick in vaping use among teens,” Hargreaves said.

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Substance reduction co-ordinators are responsible for monitoring the use and abuse of legal substances such as alcohol, cannabis, cigarettes and vape products. They take a “population-level health approach” Hargreaves explained and support several programs across the region aimed at reducing cannabis, alcohol and nicotine use. Nicotine use especially has been on the rise in recent years thanks to vapes.

The 2018 BC Adolescent Health Survey found that 36 per cent of youth in the Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap region had vaped within the last 30 days. While it’s just an educated guess, Dennis said it’s likely vape usage has increased since then. He noted that IH expects to have more up-to-date numbers within the next few weeks following the release of a new survey.

There are a variety of reasons why vapes have become the preferred substance among teens, Hargreaves explained. This includes how easy vapes are to conceal, peer pressure, the stress of everyday life and how normalized it’s been among teens in recent years.

One of the biggest factors, however, is the fact vaping has been perceived as less harmful than traditional tobacco products. Vape companies such as JUUL originally sold their product as a smoking cessation tool.

While vapes are better for smokers than cigarettes, they also became a way to hook a whole new generation on nicotine. Due to how relatively new vaping is, Dennis said doctors don’t truly know what potential health risks could emerge, especially among those who adopted the practice young. He did note however vapes can contain heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals.

“There is this misconception that vapor products just contain water and that’s absolutely not the case. We know that water vapour contains a variety of different toxic chemicals that are inhaled through the lungs and mouth and then absorbed into the bloodstream,” Hargreaves said. “When that happens the chemicals enter your brain and organs through the blood and can have a really significant impact on adolescent brain development.”

Hargreaves said these effects can manifest themselves as impulsiveness, difficulties learning and paying attention and dependency. Nicotine itself is highly addictive and youth are most susceptible to becoming addicted.

Dennis pointed out that the human brain and lungs aren’t fully developed until the mid-twenties. When you introduce foreign substances to them while they’re still developing they can have a far more detrimental effect than they would on an adult.

“I’m not saying (vaping is) harmless for an adult, but there’s a greater risk of harm for a young person because they’re still in that developmental stage,” Dennis said. “We don’t know what the long-term impacts of vaping are, so we’re trying to play catch up to identify the burdens on health.”

Vapes can only be sold if they contain nicotine or cannabis, with a limit of 20 milligrams of nicotine per one millimeter of vape juice. When sold at a vape shop or convenience store they can only be sold to adults over the age of 19.

Dennis said that typically youth report they obtain vapes via an adult whether they be a friend, an older sibling or even their parents. Online sales have also become a significant way for teens to acquire vapes. The Tobacco and Vapour Act regulates online sales and requires the company delivering the items to verify the purchaser’s age.

According to a test done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dennis said Canada Post is most effective at confirming customer’s ages. However, some of the other delivery services were not found to be as diligent.

One of the best ways to reduce youth vape use, Dennis said, would be to ban flavored vape products. Vape shops can still sell vapes flavoured like fruits and candies and he believes if they could only sell methanol or tobacco-flavoured products, like gas stations, use among youth would decline.

“Some of the common reasons why youth vape are flavours. Flavours are a significant appealing factor to youth vaping and I would suggest if the only flavours were tobacco flavour, we would reduce vaping rates,” Dennis said. “I firmly believe that. It’s an intervention or strategy that could be put in place that would significantly impact youth vaping rates.”

If you’re looking to help a teenager quit vaping, Dennis said you should initiate conversations with them about the habit. By talking to them about the risks associated with vaping from a place of education, not fear, you can delve into why they’re vaping and give them the support they need to quit. Hargreaves added that it doesn’t just take a one-off conversation, but instead an ongoing dialogue.

Dennis also recommends people looking to quit make use of the BC PharmaCare’s Smoking Cessation Program which provides everyone 12 weeks of free Nicorette patches and other smoking cessation tools. Youth can also download Quash, an app designed to help them reduce their use of vapes by allowing them to way the pros and cons of the habit.

“We often talk about quitting now, but even the reduction of the quantity and frequency of vaping products is a significant movement towards reducing the harm,” Dennis said. “Instead of hitting a vape five times in an hour, try to hit it once an hour. When you inhale the vape try not to inhale a huge amount of the aerosol.”

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