Cathy Dobson/For The Independent
An early start to the flu season is hitting the area hard, contributing to a “triple threat” of respiratory illnesses straining the health care system, says Sarnia-Lambton’s acting medical officer of health.
During her first media conference since taking Lambton’s top public health job in November, Dr. Karalyn Dueck talked about dealing simultaneously with the Covid-19 pandemic, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and the current spread of flu in Sarnia-Lambton.
Locally, influenza A is the most prevalent strain of flu right now. Influenza A’s test positivity rate is 16.7%, higher than 14.3% the week before.
“It’s been rapidly increasing since September,” Dr. Dueck said. And those rates are expected to increase during the holiday season.
She said she backs the Ontario chief medical officer of health’s recommendation to wear masks, especially in indoor public spaces.
She urged Lambton residents to adopt a multi-faceted approach to avoid getting sick. That includes screening daily for symptoms, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands really well and using hand sanitizer when you can’t get to a sink, cleaning high-touch surfaces frequently, and coughing and sneezing into your arm.
“Those are skills that need to be practised and I think if we all really focus on those, we can try to protect each other,” she said.
When it comes to deciding whether to wear a mask, Dr. Dueck said individuals need to assess their own level of risk.
“Think about who you are around,” she said. “Are you around young kids, older adults, or people who are immuno-compromised?”
Lambton Public Health has already vaccinated 3,000 people against the flu and more are being vaccinated by local health care providers and pharmacies.
That’s in line with last year’s pace, Dr. Dueck said. Health officials have said this year’s flu vaccine is a good match for the dominant strain in circulation.
“I know it can be kind of tricky to find a good time when you’re not ill to get the vaccine, but as soon as you have the opportunity, I’d encourage everyone in the community to get the vaccines they are eligible (for),” she said.
Dr. Dueck replaced former Lambton Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Dr. Sudit Ranade who left to become Chief MOH for Yukon Territory.
She said she grew up in the town of St. Jacobs and is familiar with Sarnia-Lambton because her husband’s family is from the area and she did her final rotation of residency here with Dr. Ranade in 2018.
“This is a homecoming of sorts,” she said. “…I am extremely excited to be working here…I feel so fortunate.”
Previously, Dr. Dueck was the Acting Associate MOH at the Middlesex London Health Unit.
She called this a transition period for public health as the pandemic continues to require attention and regular public health programs resume after being on hiatus for the last few years.
Aside from respiratory illnesses, Dr. Dueck said she is focused on working with local health care partners and tackling addiction and mental health challenges.
Dr. Dueck is technically Lambton’s acting medical officer of health and is waiting for government approval to grant her permanent status.