KFL&A MOH talks preventative measures as respiratory illness season returns

Coming into the fall season means the beginning of the annual respiratory illnesses season. Top left: human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), image via the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Top right: COVID-19, image via the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Bottom left: Influenza A, image via US CDC. Bottm centre: a human rhinovirus, image via US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Bottom right: Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria which causes whooping cough, image via US CSDC.

Back to school means getting back to the basics of healthy hygiene, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Piotr Oglaza reminded us in a recent interview.

Oglaza spoke over the phone on Wednesday afternoon, Sep. 6, 2023, about the upcoming respiratory season, new variants of COVID-19, and maintaining healthy practices as we enter the autumn season.

Oglaza began by joking that he was “missing the screen connection and the eye contact” of his weekly COVID-19 updates with the press during the worst of the pandemic, but he was happy to get the chance to update the public as the new school year begins.

“We’re keeping an eye on a number of respiratory pathogens,” Oglaza said, adding that “COVID is not the only respiratory problem we’re facing. [Like last year,] we are facing what we describe as a triple threat: influenza, COVID, [and] RSV [Respiratory syncytial virus]. And there are many other viruses that are circulating: rhinovirus, adenovirus, enterovirus… so there [are] all sorts of respiratory pathogens that have been with us for a long time. COVID is a new addition to this pool of circulating viruses.”

Oglaza pointed out that we don’t yet know what the seasonality of COVID-19 is going to look like, “but what we can tell is that this was the first year where we actually didn’t have the same kind of waves [of COVID-19] in the spring as we had in prior years. So there’s maybe some stability happening with the circulation. It may take a few more seasons for us to be able to conclude what patterns we see.”

Some reports have described vomiting and diarrhea as more prevalent in recent variants of COVID-19, but Oglaza cautioned that we cannot really look at a combination of symptoms to determine which virus someone has.

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

“Some respiratory viruses can result in gastrointestinal symptoms,” he said. “We’ve seen that in children, but it sometimes happens with adults too. It’s really not a good diagnostic tool. When it comes to symptoms, I think it’s really impossible to tell these viruses apart for someone who is otherwise healthy… The key message is: it’s best to isolate yourself from others as much as possible [when you are ill]. Stay home and protect from further spread.”

Recently there has been an uptick in wastewater COVID-19 indicators, but Oglaza said that despite this increase “of COVID in the wastewater collection sites that we monitor, it is still considered at this point to be stable.” He speculated that Kingston’s seasonal shift in population might interfere with the strength of the signal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is more activity.

“These things can then stabilize and in the longer term will not really represent an upward trend. It might be just a short term fluctuation,” he said.

KFL&A Public Health confirmed to Kingstonist that COVID-19 variant EG.1 “is present in our wastewater, as anticipated,” but underlined that it is “important to note that its appearance is not as alarming as the initial arrival of the Omicron variant in late 2021.”

Staying up to date with every available vaccine protection continues to be important for the public’s health, including COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, the MOH said. KFL&A Public Health announced the first case of Influenza A had been detected in the KFL&A region in the first week of September 2023. Oglaza said KFL&A Public Health is planning to roll out fall vaccine campaigns as the fall progresses and the respiratory season takes hold. He noted that “residents of long-term care facilities will be immunized by staff on-site with our support [and] with our provision of vaccine, and we are having discussions with the community partners about different channels [by] which other people can get immunizations.”

Oglaza stressed that anyone who has trouble accessing a pharmacy for vaccination, or anyone without a primary care physician, will have access to vaccines through KFL&A Public Health.

“That planning and work has been underway for some time, and when it gets closer to these dates we’ll be providing that information to the public,” he stated.

As is often the case when it comes to decreasing the spread of respiratory illnesses and viruses, the Medical Officer of Health reiterated the importance of the basic principles we’ve all heard countless times, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Really, the key message here is that, with the respiratory season approaching, we need to go back to basics and think about the spread of respiratory illness,” Oglaza concluded.

“Basic infection control principles remain valid for all the respiratory pathogens and all the other infectious agents that can impact us during the season. By taking very simple actions we are protecting ourselves, we’re protecting each other, [and] we’re protecting the community, which has got us through the worst of the pandemic. I trust that, as a community, we will be able to get through this recurring respiratory season in relatively good shape by following these very simple principles.” 

In other words, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, wear a mask in public spaces, maintain good hand hygiene, and take advantage of vaccination programs to prevent the spread of illness.

More information on the preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses can be read on the KFL&A Public Health website.

2 thoughts on “KFL&A MOH talks preventative measures as respiratory illness season returns

  • On the KFLA public health website it says “the province of Ontario and KFLA Public health strongly recommend residents wear a tight-fitting, well constructed mask in all indoor public settings, including schools and in childcare settings.” They do NOT say (as you have here) “wear a mask if you’re comfortable doing so.” Those are very different messages. Not the same. Please correct your article.

    • Hi there, Sabra,

      You are correct. Dr. Oglaza hadn’t mentioned masking in this particular interview, however, KFL&A Public Health does state that masking is recommended on their website. This article has been updated to reflect that.

      Thank you,

      Tori Stafford

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