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Infectious disease specialist attends BSN meeting

Many wonders whether Alberta Health has taken restrictions too far or that our government is not doing enough for its people during this virus’s economic fallout. There are no definitive answers about the duration of the virus nor proven solutions as to how we can fully protect ourselves. Unlike the H1N1 and SARS, this new form of the Coronavirus lasts much longer and is more widespread with no tell-tale signs of slowing down. 


For the most part, getting updates and advice consisted of turning on the television and listening to doctors and government officials give speeches on restrictions, guidelines, and new regulations. This one-way communication has left many residents sitting on the sidelines with unanswered questions and concerns. With full credit to the Fox Creek Business Support Network, that door opened for many last Wednesday. Dr. Lynora Saxinger, Infectious Disease Specialist and Pathologist from the University of Alberta agreed to join the BSN meeting as a keynote speaker. Saxinger not only spoke about virus updates and workplace safety but opened the floor for a question and answer period. 


To put the pandemic into perspective, Dr. Saxinger commented, COVID-19 is a similar strain belonging to the same family as the SARS virus. The difference was SARS from 2013, topped out at around 8,000 cases, and infected mostly hospitalized or healthcare workers. In contrast, the COVID-19 virus, or medically known as SARS-CoV-V-2, is a slightly different coronavirus and hit well over 30 million cases within the same period of six months into the pandemic. Saxinger has been studying the new virus since the pandemic, and stated, “The thing that strikes me different from SARS is that while many people acquire the infection, most wouldn’t be able to tell it from a cold. Some people have such minor symptoms; they don’t notice them in a way that makes them change any of their behaviour. Then there are the people who get significantly ill. We have been doing some research on risk factors for that. Probably the single biggest risk factor and the one that gives you a higher chance of acquiring the disease or getting extremely ill, hospitalized, end up in the intensive care unit or dying is age”. Extensive research is on-going. So far, the age in which you become vulnerable starts at 50 years-old, and much more after 65 years of age, and in the very elderly, the effects of the virus can be devastating at 10 to 15 percent mortality rate. Saxinger added, “Initially, the virus was solely linked to international travellers, and after flights became restricted, the contraction rate settled. But as the study continues, we are now finding since June, a significant rise between the ages of 20 to 40 year-olds are contracting the virus due to community spread from increased interactions and contact numbers. The fact is, a lot of people don’t realize they’re infectious until it’s too late”. 


The most common concern of residents is wearing masks and taking extra precautions when there are no reported cases in the community. As Saxinger stated, “The rationale is to stay vigil. Watching the States’ trends, there are now more outbreaks than ever in rural and smaller communities, and they don’t have the resources to handle the widespread virus. Should a similar occurrence happen here, it would be out of the bag before anyone would realize it, so prevention is the best course of action.”


 During round table discussions, the topic was about Alberta Health and the media placing fear into everyone regarding the COVID virus. When in reality, it mimics the same symptoms as the flu, which occurs heavily this time of year. Saxinger best explained that Influenza also has a dark side, which she witnessed from her years working at the U of A hospital. The difference between the two is most people who’ve experienced the flu at one time, or another have built up their immune system; therefore, it won’t have such a severe effect if they contracted it again. COVID, on the other hand, is new to our immune system, which brings the severity and risk level to a much higher level.


About social distancing, Saxinger said, “the data on social distancing is not fantastic, the two-metre distance is more a rule of thumb. In certain cases, that distance may need to be greater. For example, if you are sitting under an air vent, that same two metres is not enough”. The health officials can make up rules as [rules of thumb], but they can’t cover every scenario, so the best thing, as Saxinger mentioned, is to layer up our protections. “There’s going to be so much upheaval this fall; it’s going to be a complete gong show. People have to train themselves not to go into work sick, get trained to pay attention to their symptoms and not brush it off as cold and continue about their day. We will have to continue to quarantine and do COVID tests. It’s not going to be a lockdown, but it’s not going to run smoother. There’s no real way around that other than to improve the efficiency. One other big topic is about vaccines. There are currently eight vaccines in the trial phase at the moment. “It’s very likely we’ll end up with more than one vaccine candidate that passes all the tests required. We will continue collecting data as we’re trying to get a vaccine that we can roll out across the entire world”, stated Saxinger. Vaccines won’t be mandatory, at least not yet, but again only time will tell. Listening to health experts, it does appear the COVID virus will be sticking around, and now it’s just a matter of learning to live and work in “the new normal.”


Vicki Winger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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