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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island Health quietly declares rare bacterial infection outbreak

One person has died from Hib this year, after the disease was dormant for the past decade

By Brishti Basu
December 2, 2022
Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island Health quietly declares rare bacterial infection outbreak

One person has died from Hib this year, after the disease was dormant for the past decade

By Brishti Basu
Dec 2, 2022
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily
Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island Health quietly declares rare bacterial infection outbreak

One person has died from Hib this year, after the disease was dormant for the past decade

By Brishti Basu
December 2, 2022
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Island Health quietly declares rare bacterial infection outbreak
Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

The Vancouver Island health region has seen a sharp increase in a bacterial infection over the past two months—one that was all but eradicated over the past decade.

Island Health told Capital Daily there have been eight confirmed cases of Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) disease in Victoria, Nanaimo, and Parksville since late 2021, and one person has died.

In the past decade, this disease has only been seen once per year or less, after having been brought under control by childhood vaccinations.

According to the BCCDC, Hib predominantly occurs among infants and children under five, but this year the infection has taken root among adults. Island Health said the ages of those who were infected range from mid-20s to people in their 70s, and the average age is 47.

The disease is a bacterial infection—unlike influenza, which is caused by viruses—and can cause life-threatening conditions like meningitis and septicemia, a blood infection that can lead to septic shock (which has a 50% death rate).

Island Health said the disease has been circulating among the homeless population and among substance users in the three Island communities.

An internal email about the infection was sent by the health authority to some family doctors on Nov. 25. The email, seen by Capital Daily, discusses the ways in which the infection can spread. It notes that symptoms aren’t always present—and that most transmission comes from people showing no symptoms.

“Individuals may transfer the organism to close contacts through droplet spread by coughing and sneezing,” it reads. “Sharing of droplet or saliva containing items including food, drink and equipment for substance use is also a risk for transmission.”

Across BC, there have been 17 cases of Hib and two related deaths so far this year, according to the health ministry. Sixteen of these cases are among adults.

“Adults are not routinely immunized against Hib disease,” the health ministry told Capital Daily in an email. “The Hib vaccine is routinely used in the childhood immunization program, because historically the majority of cases were in young children.”

Island Health did not answer the question of whether those who contracted the disease had been vaccinated against it in childhood. Their internal email to some doctors indicates that people who haven’t been vaccinated are most susceptible to the disease.

Island Health is the only region to have declared an outbreak of Hib, according to the health ministry. However, this outbreak has not been shared with the public by Island Health through their website or social media channels.

“At this time the risk to the general public is low,” the health authority said in their email to Capital Daily. “Island Health Communicable Disease has initiated case and contact tracing for reported cases, and offers chemoprophylaxis and immunization to identified close household or partner contacts.”

Island Health also said they have informed “community partners and service providers” about the current situation.

Across the province, at least 11 out of the 17 people who were infected with Hib are “under housed or experiencing homelessness.”

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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