EDITORIAL: Warnings, not health scares

With words like “alert” “scare” and “warning” thrown about Greater Victorians were told of a potential health hazard this week.

With words like “alert” “scare” and “warning” thrown about Greater Victorians were told of a potential health hazard this week.

Any health issue, of course, must be taken seriously, but when the media get involved, even the risk of a potential threat gets the full-court press.

That’s not to say we’re all alarmists. The Vancouver Island Health Authority has a duty to report a threat to public health no matter how small, to help prevent the spread of the disease. It’s the medias job to help get the word out.

So when an employee at a local deli was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, a press release was sent to the media to help inform the public of a free immunization clinic set up by VIHA.

And the public reacted – in droves. The number of folks that turned up for vaccinations was in the thousands – surely more than the number of people potentially at risk of infection.

The free clinic run by VIHA on Sunday had to turn away 200 people because it had run out of vaccine.  The health authority was forced to schedule an additional two days of free immunizations. The vaccine is effective if you receive it within 14 days of exposure.

The risk of catching the illness is remote and limited to those who came in contact with contaminated food. There is no indication that any food was contaminated in the first place.

The immunization clinic is a standard precautionary measure taken by the health authority. There is  no reason to panic.

There will always be a concern if there is an outbreak of an infectious disease, but we don’t need mass inoculations unless the health authority tells us otherwise.

The majority of people who get hepatitis A recover in about a month. In rare instances, it can be severe enough to cause death. People with a history of chronic liver disease are more likely to become severely ill. Once a person has recovered from hepatitis A they can’t get the infection again.

There are usually less than two reported cases of Hepatitis A per 100,000 people in B.C. each year – that’s fewer than 50 cases. Only one in five or six people actually become ill enough to need medical attention.

Credit must go to Fairway Market and their customers who seem to be taking the incident in stride – more so than some who spent their week lining up for a vaccine they didn’t necessarily need.