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HKPR unit provides first health update of 2023

DAN CEARNS, The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) provided some updates on health trends and a potential forecast for 2023, at a virtual press conference, on Wednesday, January 11th.

The local medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, noted a downward trend of respiratory viruses overall, since the start of December.

“You’ll recall, in the [Autumn, there was] a lot of discussion, a lot of media [attention] on the triple threat. We had RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus), we had Influenza, and we had COVID-19, plus other respiratory viruses, all increasing and resulting in a number of hospital admissions and a significant burden of illness across the province. This really peaked at the beginning of December. If we look at our dashboard, on our website, and look at a graph of visits to the emergency department over time, for respiratory illnesses or Influenza-like illnesses, we see that number, since the start of September, increase significantly, much higher than we would typically expect for that time of year. And since the beginning of December, it’s actually come back down. We’re still above what’s expected for seasonal averages but much improved since that peak in December.”

Speaking specifically about the Influenza spread, Dr. Bocking stated, “We are seeing a small number of new cases being confirmed or reported, fewer outbreaks being declared, [and] fewer admissions to hospital, for Influenza, since December.”

“Certainly, there is some activity, but it doesn’t seem to be having a second peak or a third peak for the Influenza season,” Dr. Bocking added.

However, due to a small number of reported cases, Dr. Bocking stated, it is “still worth [getting] your flu shot.”

On the topic of COVID-19, Dr. Bocking said, there is starting to be a province-wide increase in COVID-19 activity.

“This is largely still being driven by the variants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. These are Omicron subvariants,” the local medical officer explained. “[They are] causing increased transmission and increased outbreaks across the province. Locally, just in the last one to two weeks, we’ve had very early signs of [a] potential increase in COVID-19 activity.”

One of these signs is the number of outbreaks declared per week.

When summing up 2022, Dr. Bocking stated, the health unit saw more hospital admissions and more deaths from COVID-19 “than we had seen previously in the pandemic.” The cause of this trend was due to how easily Omicron, as a variant, spreads from person to person.

Looking ahead to 2023, Dr. Bocking said, the health unit expects the pattern to be similar to 2022, due to Omicron still being the dominant variant.

“We will likely see more people admitted to hospital with COVID-19, but not at a level as when the first Omicron variant came out.”

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