Healthy Living in the North

School Safety: The old and the new

Special Constable Fred Greene gives the facts about school safety in today’s world.

As I walked into the Prince George RCMP detachment to discuss school safety with Special Constable Fred Greene, I thought back to my school years. Was I safe back then? I think so. I knew to look both ways before I crossed the road, drugs and cigs were bad, and planning a safe ride home was a good thing. Pretty simple, right?

Well, to fall on that old cliché: “Times have changed.”

fred greene at a desk.It seems that each new generation of students has to deal with both the safety concerns of old (like crossing the road safely), and new safety hurdles that previous groups didn’t have to deal with. Technology has changed, social norms have changed, heck – even the climate has changed! Luckily, one thing hasn’t changed: the importance of teaching students about school safety and what they can do to be proactive.

That was why it was so great to sit down with S/Cst. Greene, an RCMP Community Safety Officer with more than 10 years’ experience. As someone who has presented hundreds of personal safety talks to student bodies ranging from elementary schools to universities, he was able to break down the big topics with me.

Here’s the big four, and what he had to say about each:

Pedestrian Safety

“Make eye contact and hand gestures with drivers before crossing street.”

Remember:

  • Use marked and signalled crosswalks, not shortcuts.
  • Wear light or reflective clothing at night.
  • Use sidewalks when provided, and walk facing the traffic if they’re unavailable.

drugs being exchangedDrug Awareness

“Plan ahead. As you make plans for the party or going out with friends, you need to plan ahead. You need to protect yourself and be smart. Don’t become a victim of someone else’s drug use. Make sure there’s someone you can call day or night, no matter what, if you need them. And, do the same for your friends.”

Remember:

  • First time use of street drugs can be fatal.
  • Usage and eventual addiction of prescription meds can be an easy way to get hooked on hard street drugs.
  • Consider that fentanyl may be found in street or non-prescribed medication.
  • Be cognizant that date rape drugs are easily attainable and can be found locally. They’re colourless, odourless, and easily placed in any drink.

Cyberbullying

“No information is truly private in the online world; an online ‘friend’ can forward any information posted on your site in a moment. Every text, conversation, photo, or phone call once sent will be permanent, public and searchable. If you delete a post, it can always be found.”

Remember:

  • Cyberbullying can be investigated under the Criminal Code as stalking, harassment, or threats.
  • If you receive bullying messages, don’t respond. Print them off and tell someone.
  • Anyone can pretend to be anyone, or anything, they want online.
  • Any inappropriate photos of someone under 18 years old on a device is considered child pornography.
  • Watch out for classified ads and inquiries from out of town or country. Be cautious of anyone asking for payment by Western Union or Crypto-currency.

Street Safety

“Stranger Danger. Don’t go with, take anything, or talk to a stranger. An adult never needs help from a child.”

Remember:

  • You are always safer in a group.
  • Use the buddy system when walking, attending events, or simply to talk to if you’re having a bad day.
  • Stay in well-lit areas at night and don’t use isolated trails.
  • Know your location at all times in case you need to reach someone or call 9-1-1.
  • Never meet a person from social media for the first time by yourself; meet in a public place with a friend or parent.

Interested in more safety tips? Visit these resources!

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Help your Community Health Star shine!

All over northern BC, in every community, there’s someone who’s pumping health and wellness back into their community. This could look like many different things: they’re raising awareness for mental illness; they’re supplying a healthy eating initiative to their town; they’re encouraging others to get up and be active; and who knows what else?!

Community Health Star Logo The best part? These folks are doing this for nothing other than to make the community they live in healthier and happier! At Northern Health, we call these people Community Health Stars (CHS), and we want to help them shine!

Each month, Northern Health would like to showcase a CHS, but we can’t find them without your help. When chosen, a CHS wins their choice of prize from Northern Health, and is highlighted through our social media channels plus the Northern Health Matters blog! Nominations will be accepted on an ongoing basis, so once a nomination is in, they’re eligible to win later as well!

Wondering what a Community Health Star looks like? Here are a couple examples of past Stars:

Peter Nielson – Quesnel, B.C.
Peter is a retiree who has always had a passion for helping seniors. He has created and supported several groups to address a wide range of issues impacting seniors. His message to others? “Check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them.”

Myles Mattila – Prince George, B.C.
Myles works to promote youth mental health throughout the Prince George area and works with Mindcheck, a program that addresses mental health in a manner that is accessible for youth. It features a broad range of topics, including depression, mood, and anxiety issues; coping with stress, alcohol and substance misuse; body image, eating disorders, and more!

Hollie Blanchette – Valemount, B.C.
Hollie has served on 17 different community committees in Valemount, inspiring projects like Valemount Walks Around the World, the building of the Bigfoot community trail system, working towards a dementia-friendly community designation, looking into projects to keep seniors happy and healthy at home, coordinating a visiting hearing clinic, installing indoor/outdoor chess, and more!

So, who’s doing what around you? Do you know someone who’s helping others? Someone who betters your community? Nominate them as a Community Health Star!

Nomination takes almost no time at all, and you can help put the spotlight on someone who’s been doing something good for others and deserves to be recognized!

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Breastfeeding: It can look different!

(Co-authored with Randi Parsons, Regional Nursing Lead – Maternal, Infant, Child & Youth, and Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian)

Woman holding two babies with t-shirt that reads "sometimes breastfeeding looks like this."Tailor-made to meet the nutritional needs of her baby, a mother’s milk supplies unique immune factors, stem cells, hormones, and enzymes. The composition of her milk changes depending on the needs of her baby. How incredible is that!?

Breastfeeding is recommended where possible, as it supports:

Yet, in situations where feeding directly at the breast is not possible, many moms can continue to offer their milk to their babies.

  • To relieve full breasts
  • To collect breast milk if they will be away from babies for more than a few hours
  • To increase milk supply*
  • To maintain milk supply during times when feeding at the breast is not possible*
  • To collect milk for feeding via an alternative feeding method, such as a syringe, supplemental nursing system, cup, or bottle*

For families interested in providing expressed milk by bottle, it’s best to wait to introduce a bottle until breastfeeding is well established (usually after four to six weeks).

*Families who need to express breast milk, for reasons other than feeding by bottle, would likely benefit from the support of a lactation consultant, or other knowledgeable health professional or breastfeeding support person.

Helpful tips for families

Just like breastfeeding, expressing breast milk involves a learning curve for families. It’s helpful for families to receive support and information about:

Exclusive pumping and combination feeding

Some families make an informed decision not to feed at the breast. Instead, they express breast milk and feed this to their baby as their sole source of nutrition. This approach is sometimes referred to as “exclusive pumping.” Other families choose a different approach called “combination feeding,” where they alternate between feeding at the breast and feeding breast milk by bottle.

Regardless of the feeding approach, it’s vital for mother’s support systems, including friends, family, and health care providers, to have an awareness about milk expression, exclusive pumping, and combination feeding. This awareness ensures that mothers are well care for, and feel understood and supported.

The bottom line

There are reasons why a mother may not feed her baby at the breast. In these situations, we all have an important role to play in supporting women who wish to provide their own milk to their babies.

To learn more, consider these resources:

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Tandem breastfeeding: Strengthening family connections

Young girl wearing a big sis t-shirt.

Expecting a second child can raise many questions, including how to breastfeed both of them at the same time, an approach called “tandem breastfeeding.”

Baby news! Our family is growing, and soon, we’ll be welcoming our second baby. This special news has our preschooler very excited – this is the same little girl, Jovie, who helped me to learn about the many joys (and challenges) of breastfeeding.

With our new bundle on the way, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding both children, at the same time. This approach is called “tandem breastfeeding.” As a mom and a nurse, this topic fascinates me. Until recently, I knew very little about the topic, and today I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far.

Making an informed decision

Choosing to breastfeed is a personal decision, and breastfeeding looks different for every family. Some families consider the option of breastfeeding an older child during pregnancy, as well as after the arrival of a new baby. Here’s some information that might be helpful.

Is it safe?

  • In most pregnancies, it’s safe for women to continue breastfeeding an older child. La Leche League explains more in Nursing Through Pregnancy.
  • In some situations, caution may be advised.
  • Women can share their questions and concerns with their health care team.

Bonding time

  • Some mothers feel that breastfeeding during pregnancy can promote bonding with the older child as they prepare to be a “big sister” or “big brother.”
  • This definitely resonates for me as Jovie loves to “nuggle” more often lately. She wants to keep close to me and even talks (and sings) to baby – so cute!

…and then there were two (or more)!

  • When the new baby finally arrives, continuing to breastfeed an older child can help them to feel connected as their parents tend to the newborn’s unique needs.
  • Tandem breastfeeding also supports bonding between siblings. How special is that!?
  • An experienced nursling can also help their mother to manage breastfeeding challenges after the new baby arrives, such as engorgement, a plugged duct, or a forceful letdown.

Helpful tips to consider

It surprised me to learn so many interesting tidbits about tandem breastfeeding. I’ve also discovered that:

  • Pregnancy hormones may decrease the supply of breast milk. Jovie noticed this and announced “there’s no more milk, mama.” I assured her it would return, especially when the new baby arrives!
  • Mothers can feed both children at the same time, or feed each of them in turn. Families can do what works best for them.
  • Newborns should generally be breastfed first. Breast milk is their only food source, while older children are already enjoying a more varied diet.
  • Sharing the breast can be an adjustment for the older child. Engaging them in age-appropriate activities can help, as can trying different breastfeeding positions that allow mom to have a free hand. This sounds like juggling at its best! (HealthyFamilies BC shares some general tips about how to prepare an older child for a sibling).

Tick tock…

As we prepare for our newborn, I find myself feeling giddy about the new experiences we’re going to have as a family. There’s so much to learn, and I plan to consult my support circle as the pregnancy progresses. La Leche League has mother-to-mother support groups, so this would be a helpful place for me to ask about others’ experiences with tandem breastfeeding.

Interested in learning more, too? There are other resources to explore:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Human milk banking: Getting breast milk to the babies that need it most

(Co-authored with Katherine Schemenauer, Clinical Practice Lead at the University Hospital of Northern BC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

A poster promoting the donation of breast milk.Did you know that there are four human milk banks in Canada? We are lucky to have one in BC: the BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank, in Vancouver. This milk bank provides screened, pasteurized donor breast milk to hundreds of tiny, sick, or at-risk babies every year. Babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) in Prince George are amongst these recipients.

Why is donor human milk important?

The gift of donor milk is life-changing for the smallest, sickest, and most vulnerable babies. When mothers are unwell, deliver their babies prematurely, or their babies are born sick, they may not have enough of their own milk in the first few days to provide for their own babies. The processed donor milk provides a safe, easy to digest first milk for their babies until they can grow stronger, and their mothers can provide enough of their own milk for their babies.

Human milk has been shown to reduce the incidence of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in newborns. NEC can be life threatening to an already at-risk baby. Human milk is easy to digest, making it the best option for premature digestive systems.

What is a donor milk collection depot?

A milk depot is a place where eligible donors can drop off their breast milk donations, once they have gone through a screening process. These depots then send the milk to the provincial milk bank in Vancouver for processing. Currently, there are 24 donor milk collection depots in BC, based out of hospitals and health units. Northern Health has one depot in Prince George, at UHNBC, in the NICU.

Northern Health uses donor milk in the NICU

The NICU at UHNBC uses up to 3 litres of human donor milk for up to 15 babies a month. Most babies in the NICU need between 12ml (less than a tablespoon) to 500ml (2 cups) of donor milk a day.

Got milk?

Women who are interested in donating their milk are welcome to contact the BC Provincial Milk Bank to learn more.

Additional resources:

Jeanne Hagreen

About Jeanne Hagreen

Jeanne has been a Lactation Consultant since 1993. She worked for Northern Health for 38 years, first as a nurse on the Maternal-Child Units, then 20.5 years as a Lactation Consultant. During this time, she also returned to school and earned her BSN from UNBC. Following her retirement at the end of September 2015, Jeanne has remained an active member of local, regional & provincial perinatal committees. She is also co-president of the BC Lactation Consultant Association. Jeanne was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and also lived in Campbell River, Victoria, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1975, she moved to Prince George with her husband and two small sons. In addition to her volunteer work, she is an avid knitter and reader. She enjoys living in the rural community of Salmon Valley with a small menagerie of animals, along with the wildlife that passes through her yard.

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Nutrition and breastfeeding: Are we sending the right message?

As a dietitian, I aim to stay abreast of up-to-date nutrition information. Some topics surprise me, and cause me to rethink my approach. I am realizing that information about nutrition and breastfeeding can send the wrong message, even though it might be well intentioned.

breastfeeding mom on picnic bench

There is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

Does breastfeeding require a special diet?

Online, we can find suggestions for foods that moms should or shouldn’t eat when they are breastfeeding. Mothers probably hear this advice from family, friends, and others, too. Unfortunately, this suggests that moms need to follow a special diet in order for their milk to meet their babies’ needs. Not only is this untrue, this myth can cause stress for mothers and families. It can also create a barrier to breastfeeding. Mothers want the best for their babies, and this informs the choices they make. And some mothers wonder, “Is there is enough nutrition in my breast milk?”

Mothers’ milk is amazing

I am happy to share good news. Even if she isn’t always eating well, a mother’s milk will generally be nutritious and the best choice for her baby. Did you know that the level of many nutrients in a mother’s milk are not affected by what she eats? What’s in her milk primarily comes from her body’s nutrient stores. As a result, her milk is a reliable source of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and other nutrients, despite day-to-day variability in her diet. Her milk also offers so much more than just nutrients. It also supplies unique immune factors, stem cells, hormones, and enzymes – and her baby can’t get that from any other food. Amazing!

What guidance can we offer breastfeeding mothers?

There aren’t a lot of dietary do’s and don’ts for breastfeeding mothers; no special diet is required. As with other women of childbearing age, with the goal of supporting their own health, breastfeeding moms are encouraged to:

  • Choose foods from each of the food groups of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Aim for two servings per week of fatty fish that is low in mercury, such as salmon, herring, and sardines. Canned fish can be a nutritious and economical choice.
  • Continue to take a multivitamin supplement, such as a prenatal vitamin.
  • Follow cues of thirst, hunger, and fullness to decide how much to eat and drink.

Some breast milk nutrient levels do fluctuate with mom’s food intake, namely certain vitamins and fatty acids. This is where the multivitamin and attention to fish intake can be helpful. Also, because we live in the north, we recommend a vitamin D supplement for breastfed children.

Other things that might be helpful to know:

  • You don’t have to drink milk to make milk.
  • A cup or two of coffee or tea each day is just fine.
  • Teas made from food products or the following herbs are generally safe: bitter orange/orange peel, echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rose hip, and rosemary.
  • There’s no need to avoid spicy foods, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruit, fish, sushi, soft cheeses, or other dairy products.
  • Avoiding specific foods for the purpose of preventing allergies in infants is not advised. For more information, see HealthLink BC’s resource: Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby.
  • In cases where mothers or babies have unique nutritional concerns, a dietitian or other knowledgeable health care provider may be able to help.
  • Some families may benefit from additional supports to access food (see General & Health Supplements or BC211).

The bottom line

Breastfeeding moms can feel confident that their babies are getting great nutrition, and there is no need for a special or restrictive “breastfeeding diet.”

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Breastfeeding-friendly spaces: Make breastfeeding your business

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal stating, "we welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding takes an entire community, big and small. That’s why Northern Health is happy to support a provincial-wide initiative to encourage breastfeeding-friendly spaces across the north.

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces program has created a toolkit to help businesses and organizations create a welcoming, breastfeeding-friendly space for all families. The toolkit includes:

  • A window decal, featuring the universal breastfeeding symbol, to be prominently displayed in front windows. Displaying this decal shows your commitment to support breastfeeding.
  • A companion tip sheet that offers information about how employers and staff can support breastfeeding families.

The importance of breastfeeding

Did you know that a woman’s right to breastfeed is protected by law in BC? As per BC’s Ministry of Justice:

  • Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area.
  • It’s discriminatory to ask a mother to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.

While these facts are not new, it may not be common knowledge. Northern Health is committed to supporting breastfeeding-friendly spaces across northern BC. We encourage all businesses and organizations to do their part to contribute to a positive community that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal on the window of the library entrance.

Ignacio Albarracin, Public Service Manager for the Prince George Public Library, stands at the library’s entrance with the new provincial Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal displayed.

A closer look

The Prince George Public Library is one in a growing list of northern BC organizations that is proud to declare their facility to be a breastfeeding-friendly space.

“The public library is a welcoming space, it’s an inclusive space, and serving households with children is one of our core services,” says Ignacio Albarracin, the library’s Public Service Manager, about why they have put up the decal. “We understand that it’s the law, that women have a right to breastfeed anywhere, and this is also consistent with our values to make this a family-friendly space. We want mothers to feel that it’s safe and appropriate to bring their children here. We want them to feel that they’re not going to be bothered or judged if they breastfeed their children here.”

This breastfeeding-friendly spaces decal and tip sheet were created in partnership with Perinatal Services BC, all BC health authorities, the Ministry of Health, and the BC Baby Friendly Network. The new program will be replacing Northern Health’s existing “Growing for Gold” program, which was developed for the 2015 Canada Winter Games and featured a window decal stating, “Naturally, you can breastfeed here.” We appreciate the northern businesses and organizations who have supported this initiative and they can expect a new toolkit in the mail very soon.

When you order a decal, your business/facility will be added to the list of breastfeeding-friendly spaces on the Northern Health website. Help us send this important message: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere,” by requesting your decal now!

Want to do more? Consider displaying these posters as well:

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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Welcome to 2018 Breastfeeding Week

An infographic featuring the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding, from the World Health Organization.

The 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, from the World Health Organization (WHO). Original: http://www.who.int/nutrition/bfhi/bfhi-poster-A2.pdf

Happy Breastfeeding Week! This week is celebrated annually in Canada from October 1-7 to promote the importance of breastfeeding, and it’s an opportune time to highlight breastfeeding as the foundation of lifelong good health for babies and mothers.

Northern Health is committed to supporting facilities and communities to adopt the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) 10 Steps recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The BFI is a world-wide effort to implement practices that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

As a registered nurse and mother of two breastfed children, I find Breastfeeding Week to be a great time to reflect on my breastfeeding experience – even from 15 years ago! As a parent, the BFI provides a framework that reassures me that hospitals and communities are making efforts to achieve standardization of these internationally endorsed 10 steps. Parents may use these 10 steps to help guide their decisions regarding infant feeding and breastfeeding and the supports they may expect from their care providers.

Here are some highlights of how hospitals and communities support mothers to breastfeed (adapted from the WHO’s Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding):

  1. Hospital Policies – not promoting infant formulas, bottles or teats; making breastfeeding care standard practice; keeping track of support for breastfeeding.
  2. Staff Education – training staff on supporting mothers to breastfeed; assessing health workers’ knowledge and skills.
  3. Prenatal Care – discussing the importance of breastfeeding for babies and mothers; preparing women in how to feed their baby.
  4. Care Right After Birth – encouraging skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby soon after birth; helping mothers to put their baby to the breast right away.
  5. Support Mothers With Breastfeeding – checking positioning, attachment and suckling; giving practical breastfeeding support; helping mothers with common breastfeeding problems.
  6. Supplementing – giving only breastmilk unless there are medical reasons; prioritizing donor human milk when a supplement is needed; helping mothers who want to formula feed do so safely.
  7. Rooming-In – letting mothers and their babies stay together day and night; making sure that mothers of sick babies can stay near their baby.
  8. Responsive Feeding – Helping mothers know when their baby is hungry; not limiting breastfeeding times.
  9. Bottles, Teats and Pacifiers – counsel mothers on the use and risks of feeding bottles, teats and pacifiers.
  10. Discharge – referring mothers to community resources for breastfeeding support; working with communities to improve breastfeeding support services.

As we celebrate breastfeeding this week, I invite you to look forward to additional posts throughout Breastfeeding Week 2018!

Vanessa Salmons

About Vanessa Salmons

Vanessa is a registered nurse and Northern Health’s Early Childhood Development lead for preventive public health. Located in Quesnel, Vanessa supports prenatal, postpartum and family health services across the north. She is married with two children and is always busy with the family’s many activities. Work/life balance is important to Vanessa. When she is not at work, she enjoys spending time with family and friends entertaining and cooking. Vanessa stays active through walking or running with her dog Maggie, spinning and circuit training. A good game of golf or a good book is always a bonus!

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In photos: A look at BC wildfires

For information and resources about wildfires and your health, visit our wildfire information page on the Northern Health website.

A helicopter delivering water for aerial firefighting near Chetwynd in 2017.

Photo provided by Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Operations and Rural Development.

(Above) A helicopter delivering water for aerial firefighting (also known as a helicopter bucket) outside of Chetwynd, BC July 23 2017. To see the wildfires in your area, view the up-to-date map of BC active wildfires.

Wildfire burning near Tete Jaune Cache in 2017.

Photo provided by Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Operations and Rural Development.

(Above) Aerial view of a wildfire 5km east of Tete Jaune Cache (Near McBride). If you see a haze, smell smoke or know of a wildfire in your area, check the current air quality advisories in your area to see whether you should limit your time outdoors.

A BC Wildfire service member working at a blaze outside Williams Lake in 2017.

Photo provided by Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Operations and Rural Development.

(Above) BC Wildfire service member working at a blaze outside of Williams Lake, July 28 2017. For your safety during the wildfire season, check out the wildfire preparedness information page on Emergency info BC.

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.

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Dealing with the smoke: protecting ourselves and our families

Most of us take clean air for granted. That is…. until the sky turns gray with smoke or we wake up to an eerie Armageddon-like morning while the sun hides behind a thick layer of cloud. At those times, we quickly start to think about how we can best protect ourselves and our families from the smoke.  I have young children, one of which has asthma, so this has been foremost on my mind over the last couple of smoky weeks.

Smoky sky landscape

August 17th, 9:30 AM Armageddon morning from my office.

Because I work in air quality at Northern Health, I have access to some great and easy to follow advice (and you can find it on the NH website too). Here are some strategies that my family and I have been following to keep us healthy during these smoky days:

Check on medication:
Since my son has asthma, the first thing I did was to make sure that his asthma management plan was up to date, that his regular medication was filled, and that we had enough rescue medication on hand to be able to manage his condition. I have been helping him to understand and follow his asthma management plan and keeping tabs on whether or not it is working. He knows when and how to use his rescue medication and we have talked about when we would go to the doctor for additional support.

Stay indoors:
While everyone reacts differently to wildfire smoke, it is important to listen to your body and reduce outdoor strenuous activity during very smoky conditions. Healthy individuals can still go outside and be active during less smoky periods, but for those with chronic conditions, the recommendation is to stay away from rigorous outdoor activity altogether when there is smoke in the air. Because of this, we have been keeping the kids indoors and keeping them occupied with various indoor activities. This has included activities like building with Lego, beading, and edible slime-making, and (for the safety of my breakables and all of our sanity) also more active activities, like going to the pool and our local civic centre. Public facilities, like community halls, malls, libraries, and pools often have better filtration systems and can offer a nice reprieve from being stuck in your home.

Children doing indoor activities.

Making beads inside with the air purifier and smoky skies as backdrop. Photo credit: Franny Steele.

Child at pool

Pool time fun during smoky days. Photo credit: Franny Steele

Keep inside air clean:
Of course, when staying indoors, it’s important to try to keep the indoor air clean. We try to open windows and doors only when needed. I also have two HEPA air purifiers running in the house. One of these is set up in my asthmatic son’s room so that he has a “clean” place to sleep at night. The other is in our common room where we spend most of our time. HEPA air purifiers are recommended over electrostatic precipitators (which can produce ozone) for those with respiratory conditions and the research (and my own experience) tells me that they really work!

It’s a good bet that this won’t be our last smoky summer, so even if you don’t have access to an air purifier this year, my recommendation would be to keep an eye open for deals on air purifiers for next summer season. I bought ours on sale for less than $50 each and they have been well worth it!

Stay put:
After posting multiple “Armageddon-like” photos on my Facebook page, I had calls from family located in other parts of the province, asking if we needed a place to evacuate to. At first I was surprised to learn that the public health advice for smoky conditions is not to evacuate, but it made sense once I understood the reasoning. One reason is that smoky conditions can change very rapidly. It is very possible that by the time we left our smoky hometown and drove elsewhere, the winds would have shifted and cleared our hometown air while socking in our new location. Smoke can travel for very long distances. With the number of fires burning in BC right now, we would need to travel quite far to find a place that couldn’t be impacted with a change in wind direction. I recently flew from Vancouver to Prince George and we were flying above smoky skies the entire way! Of course, evacuating is also stressful (especially with young children) and can be costly. On a regional scale, community wide evacuations for smoke can take important resources away from those whose safety is directly threatened by the wildfire.

Smoky sky comparison photos

Smoke conditions change rapidly! This photo is taking four hours apart from the same location. While still smoky, the smoke cleared up significantly between 9:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Don’t bother with masks:
Unless you’re required to as part of your work or have been advised by a physician, don’t bother wearing masks. Surgical masks (the thin white ones you can buy at a drug or hardware store) offer little protection from the fine smoke particulates. The ones that do (called N95 masks) are quite bulky, are harder to breathe through, need to be fit tested, can’t be fit tested on people with facial hair, and don’t fit children. The best line of defense is to seek cleaner air! Thank goodness, since I think asking the kids to wear masks would not have gone over well with them.

Don’t panic:
While very smoky days can be freaky, especially when you or your loved one has a chronic condition, I feel better knowing that most effects will go away quickly when the smoke clears. In a month from now when we are rummaging through our closets to find our winter gear, this will likely be a far off memory.

Barb Oke

About Barb Oke

Barb is a healthy community environments lead for Northern Health. Her passion is her family, and most of what she does to stay active and healthy centers around activities such as biking, hiking, walking, skiing, swimming and boating, where the whole family can be involved.

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