OHT-N partners issue renewed call to action to help minimize the spread of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, during the holiday season – click here for poster

NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY, Tuesday, December 12, 2023–As colder weather arrives, and we begin to gather together inside for the holiday season, the rates of respiratory illness, including COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and influenza (flu) traditionally rise within Northumberland County and throughout Ontario.

To minimize the impact of respiratory illnesses, the Ontario Health Team of Northumberland (OHT-N) partners are joining forces with a ‘call to action’ to help all—patients, caregivers, and providers alike—manage cold and flu season.
The OHT-N call to action has three simple goals:
1) Remind everyone of the steps we can take, as individuals, to minimize our risk of getting sick this season (and inadvertently spreading viruses to others);
2) Promote additional resources available—beyond primary care offices and the nearest hospital—if we are sick or caring for someone who is sick; and
3) Help raise awareness of the rising rates of respiratory illness in our community, and what to do if we do fall ill.

Respiratory disease in Northumberland – What the data are telling us

The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s (HKPR District Health Unit) Respiratory Diseases Dashboard shares updates on the local rates of respiratory illness, including COVID-19 and influenza.

“Traditionally, colder weather has always signalled the arrival of cold and flu season and with that the rising transmission rates of respiratory illnesses including influenza, COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus”, said Dr. Natalie Bocking, Medical Officer of Health, and CEO for the HKPR District Health Unit. “As many of us begin to gather for the holiday season its important that we continue to take all necessary public health precautions to ensure we keep ourselves and others healthy. Continue to boost your defenses against respiratory illness by keeping yourself up to date on vaccinations, staying home when you’re sick and practicing good hand hygiene. By doing so, we are ensuring that critical health care services are there for those who need them the most.”

For an overview and other high-level assessments of localized respiratory virus activity, view the HKPR District Health Unit’s Respiratory Diseases Dashboard.

Recently, Statistics Canada reported that one in nine Canadian adults have experienced long-term COVID symptoms, with more than half still reporting symptoms as of June 2023. Individuals who experience recurrent or multiple COVID infections are also at an increased risk of developing long-term COVID symptoms.

It’s not only important to mitigate the spread of respiratory illnesses in general, but also prevent the potential for long-term health risks caused from reinfections, specifically from viruses like COVID-19.

Check to protect – Simple steps we can take now to minimize the chances of serious illness and community spread of respiratory illness:

✓ Screen for respiratory symptoms daily and stay home if you are ill. What feels like a minor cold to you could be serious if transmitted to someone else. If in doubt, use the www.ontario.ca/covid-treatment-screener online to check your symptoms and receive guidance on isolation and antiviral treatments
✓ Make sure you and your family members’ COVID vaccinations are up to date, meaning you have completed your primary series and, for those 5 years of age and older, you have received a COVID-19 vaccine within the last six months of your last dose or infection. COVID-19 vaccinations can be booked locally through the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (https://www.hkpr.on.ca/ or call 1-866-888-4577 ext. 1507) and through the Northumberland Family Health Team https://nfht.ca/onlinebooking/. Many pharmacies and some primary care offices are also offering COVID vaccinations. Learn more about vaccines and where to get vaccinated here: www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-vaccines
✓ Get a flu shot. Flu shots are given to those aged 6 months and older. Learn more about where to get a flu shot in Northumberland County on the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s website: https://www.hkpr.on.ca/classes-clinics-and-supports/immunization-clinics/flu-shots/#. Flu shots are also available through the Northumberland Family Health Team https://nfht.ca/onlinebooking/
✓ Wear a mask when indoors in crowded public spaces and physical distancing cannot be maintained – masking is not currently mandatory in most areas of Northumberland County beyond high-risk health settings, like patient care areas in hospitals and long-term care settings, where special guidelines remain in force, but it is a small gesture that is known to have a big impact on stopping the spread of germs. Surgical masks should be properly worn, covering the nose and mouth.
✓ Wash your hands often, particularly when out in public. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
✓ If you are higher risk, know what to do if you get sick as you may benefit from antiviral treatments for the flu and COVID-19. These medications work best if you can start them as soon as possible after noticing symptoms. If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, older than 60 years of age and/or have health conditions, or if you are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, you may be at higher risk. Use this screening tool from the Ministry of Health to see if you are eligible for antiviral treatments (https://www.ontario.ca/covid-treatment-screener/). These treatments are cost-free to anyone with a prescription. You can use the screening tool even if you do not have symptoms, to be prepared, in case you get sick. The tool will tell you how to access COVID-19 testing and receive a prescription for antiviral medication.

What to do if you catch a respiratory illness, or if you are a care provider for someone who is sick:

Mild symptoms? Most of us with respiratory symptoms—whether from flu, COVID, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), or other respiratory infections—will recover on our own and will not require prescription medications. Self-isolate and rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen as able and as needed and directed on the manufacturer’s instructions for fever or muscle aches. For advice on self-isolation, and how long you should restrict contact with others if you do get ill, click here.

Child with a fever? The following information sheet, Information for families and caregivers on children’s fever and pain medication—is a combined effort between the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Pharmacists Association and four Canadian children’s hospitals. It contains helpful information on fevers and the use of over-the-counter medication. Find it online here.

When to see a doctor or Nurse Practitioner? There are special considerations for respiratory illness in children. The attached information sheet, Family Doctor Tips on Caring for Children with Respiratory Symptoms, is an excellent resource for answering many common questions – including when to call the doctor or NP’s office. Find it online here. A virtual appointment may be offered in some instances. This is one of the ways that primary care providers can determine if you need to be seen in person.

What if I don’t have a Family Doctor or Nurse Practitioner?

When to call 911 or go to the emergency department? Emergency departments (EDs) are very busy places but, in some circumstances, the ED is the only option available for accessing urgent care quickly. Some examples of when you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department: if you are worried that you or someone you are caring for is seriously ill; if your infant, younger than three months old, has a fever; if your child is struggling to breathe or is breathing faster than normal; if you are concerned about the risk of dehydration.

The best gift we can all give to one another and all health care providers this holiday season is to ensure we take action, where it is in our control, to minimize the risk of contracting a respiratory illness. Prevention, and response, is a shared responsibility. For the sake of the most vulnerable among us—the very young, older individuals, and those whose health is already challenged by chronic health conditions, precarious housing situations or both—we must each continue to do everything in our power to protect our whole community by preserving health care resources for those who need them most. Thank you, Northumberland, for everything you have done to date.

Taryn Rennicks, Co-Chair, OTH-N and Executive Director, Community Health Centres of Northumberland
Susan Walsh, Co-Chair, OHT-N, President and CEO, Northumberland Hills Hospital
Suzanne Lawson, Chair, OHT-N Experience Partner Council
Alderville First Nation
Dr. Erin Pepper, Family Physician
Rebecca Marskell, RN, Director of Hospice Services, The Bridge Hospice
Trish Baird, Co-Chair, OTH-N and CEO, Community Care Northumberland
Jeff Hohenkerk, President & CEO, Campbellford Memorial Hospital
Dr. Natalie Bocking, Medical Officer of Health & CEO, HKPR District Health Unit
Jennifer May-Anderson, Executive Director, Lakeview Family Health Team
Jennifer Moore, Chief Administrative Officer, Northumberland County
Kate Campbell, Director of Communications, Northumberland County
Adrienne Bell-Smith, Executive Director, Northumberland Family Health Team
Jennifer Gillard, Vice President, Patient Experience, Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, Northumberland Hills Hospital
Susan Brown, Chief, Northumberland Paramedics
Nicole Wood, Executive Director, Rebound Child & Youth Services
Stacey Hawkins, Director, Research & Evaluation, Seniors Care Network
Kylie Morton, Administrator/Director of Care, Streamway Villa Long-term Care
Delayne Donald, Executive Director, Trent Hills Family Health Team