01/15/2013 04:16 EST | Updated 03/17/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Flu Outbreak Hazardous: Fraser Health

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CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 10: Dr. Anne Furey Schultz examines Alice Corcoran, who was experiencing flu-like symptoms, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on January 10, 2013 in Chicago City. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu is widespread in 41 states. The CDC has reported 22,048 flu cases from Sept. 30 through December 31, 2012 compared with only 849 for the same period last year. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

SURREY, B.C. - The flu is so bad in Metro Vancouver this year that officials in one area have declared it a public health hazard and are invoking special measures to fight its spread.

The Fraser Health Authority says there have been twice as many influenza outbreaks so far this winter as the last three years combined and more than three times the number of deaths among people in residential care facilities.

It says there have been 19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the Fraser region, while flu-related visits to area emergency departments are at the highest level in years.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder says declaring the illness a health hazard under the Public Health Act allows the use of extra measures to help protect the community's most vulnerable residents.

The measures include requiring visitors to a residential care or assisted living facility to wear a mask and wash their hands if they have not had a flu shot.

Fraser Health says anyone who's not feeling well should not visit such facilities.

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