KFL&A community health update for March 2024: respiratory illness, measles, and public health challenges posed by solar eclipse

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health. Image via Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.

At its most recent meeting on Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2024, the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health not only made a decision to pursue a merger with two other nearby health units but also heard the monthly community health update from Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza.

First, Oglaza indicated that the “respiratory season in KFL&A” is winding down, as is to be expected in the spring.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “when we look at our indicators, out of the five that we’re monitoring right now, only per cent positivity and active respiratory hospitalizations remain above our risk thresholds… [and] these are driven by influenza only. The numbers are in the moderate ranges, and they have remained as such for most of March.”

COVID-19 indicators — wastewater, hospitalization, outbreaks — are all at low levels, Oglaza emphasized.

“Locally, our respiratory-related emergency department visits and new admissions are back to seasonal levels and have remained so for the past two months,” Oglaza noted, adding, “When we look at the province, COVID-19 and influenza are at low levels… Respiratory-related emergency department visits and admissions are at or below historic seasonal levels.”

Measles

“We continue to see increased levels of measles globally. To date, Ontario has reported nine measles cases in 2024 alone,” Oglaza noted, reminding the board that measles is a highly contagious viral infection whose symptoms include red rash and fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and fatigue.

“It spreads through the air upon close contact, and vaccines remain our key line of defence here [to prevent] the spread of measles. Our local immunization coverage remains one of the highest in the province, and we are at a protected level for our school-age population.”

He noted that Public Health teams are working closely to prepare for a response should any local cases arise.

The 2017 Solar Eclipse as seen from Cerulean, Kentucky, USA. Photo by Jongsun Lee.

Eclipse

Oglaza highlighted the upcoming total solar eclipse on Monday, Apr. 8, 2024, calling it a “probably once-in-a-generation opportunity to witness this natural phenomenon.” The KFL&A region will be one of the regions on the path of totality for this eclipse.

Public Health’s focus, Oglaza said, is that “we treat it like any other mass public event with particular unique risks and considerations.” This includes messaging about eye and vision health for those watching the eclipse and preparation for the massive public gatherings expected.

 KFL&A Public Health has been participating in local municipal emergency planning and meetings with City of Kingston officials regarding special events requiring Public Health inspection. Oglaza shared that ensuring safe food and safe water remains a Public Health responsibility. The local Health Unit also provides safety messaging on the KFL&A Public Health website and other media for any mass gathering.

The number of people in the region will increase the risk of disease spread. Oglaza advised the public to ensure they are up to date with all immunizations, including measles.

He also mentioned some local considerations, such as Lyme disease.

“The increased risk of Lyme disease is particular and unique to our region,” Oglaza noted.

“Ticks are emerging in this spring weather, and most people will be outdoors observing the eclipse. The public health consideration here is [that] the large number of people coming into the region will increase the risk of disease spreading.”

Given recent local cases, the spread of avian influenza is also a concern. Oglaza said messaging will inform people about this and encourage them to keep their pets leashed away from sick and dead birds. (KFL&A Public Health already has a detailed page on its website about avian influenza.)

He also encouraged people to plan for having basic necessities before eclipse day. “We expect the large converging of people will disrupt traffic and the ability to get to places. So we want to make sure people have the necessary preparations and that they stock up on supplies, groceries, and medication so they don’t run out of something that they need the day of the eclipse.”

He also again emphasized that the eclipse cannot be viewed “without special protective eyewear” — certified eclipse glasses available at Tourism Kingston, Kingston Frontenac Public Library branches, and elsewhere.

To learn more about how to prepare for the total solar eclipse on Monday, Apr. 8, 2024, visit KFL&A Public Health’s eclipse page. Kingstonist also provides a comprehensive eclipse guide.

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