As flu season arrives with its familiar symptoms of coughing and sneezing across Canada, there is a glimmer of relief: Health experts say that while cases are on the rise, the increase is significantly less than the average compared to previous years.
This time last year, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) declared that influenza activity had already crossed the seasonal threshold, indicating an “influenza epidemic.” However, this season, PHAC says that while flu activity is increasing, overall activity remains low and below seasonal thresholds.
“So far it looks like this season is going to be concerning, but certainly nowhere near as bad as the late onset we had in 2021 and 2022,” said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of Vancouver Infectious . Disease Center.
“As restrictions were lifted… last year we had a significant number of cases and then it increased from there. And it’s below average, below what we had last year.
In Canada, flu season typically falls during the fall and winter months, and activity often begins to increase in late October. The peak of flu season in Canada tends to occur between December and February, although the timing can vary each year.
According to the latest report, which includes PHAC flu numbers from August 27 to November 11, 3,065 cases of influenza were reported across Canada, 95 percent of which were due to influenza A. There are also had 184 influenza-associated hospitalizations. , 21 admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU) and six deaths, according to PHAC.
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Adults aged 65 and older accounted for 51 percent of reported hospitalizations. And 97 percent of hospitalizations were associated with influenza A.
Last year’s flu season saw much higher numbers around this time.
From August 28 to November 12, 2022, 8,273 cases of influenza were reported, of which 99% were influenza A cases. At the same time last year, there were 394 influenza-related hospitalizations, 32 admissions to intensive care and nine influenza-associated deaths.
PHAC reported that during this time last year, the highest cumulative hospitalization rates were among children under five and adults 65 and older.
At the end of the 2022-2023 flu season, PHAC said there were more than 72,000 reported and confirmed flu cases and more than 6,000 hospitalizations.
Although current flu numbers are lower than the previous year, Dr. Mark Loeb, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at McMaster University, cautions that the virus is inherently unpredictable.
“Across the country, there is sporadic activity and some localized activity, but it is not yet widespread,” he said. “But it is still too early to make predictions; we don’t know at what point it will reach its peak.
“We should not rest on our laurels”
It may be too early to predict how this flu season will go, but Conway believes the numbers could be lower this year due to COVID-19’s prior influence on the spread of the virus.
“Last year was the first year that we were released from lockdown for a period of time before the respiratory virus season started,” Conway said. “So it was potentially expected that he would have been more exuberant.”
The 2022-2023 flu season in Canada marked a notable resurgence, rebounding after a few years of unusually low numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young children were particularly affected.
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“It’s off to a slower start than last year. But…we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. This doesn’t mean you don’t need your injections. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to stay home if you’re sick,” Conway warned.
To keep the number of flu cases in Canada low, Loeb and Conway emphasized that the most effective measure is to prioritize flu vaccination, especially for those at high risk.
PHAC did not provide data on the number of Canadians who have received their flu vaccine. However, Conway mentioned that, based on observations, there has been an enthusiastic start when it comes to flu vaccinations.
“I think people are more tired of the COVID vaccines than any other vaccine,” he said, noting that in B.C. he has seen a higher vaccination rate for the flu than for COVID-19 vaccines.
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This year’s flu vaccine is designed to fight four strains of influenza: influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and influenza B (B/Victoria and B/Yamagata). Currently, PHAC reports that the majority of influenza cases are attributed to H1N1.
Conway warned that people aged 65 and older are particularly vulnerable to influenza A, emphasizing the importance of this group getting the flu vaccine.
“If they get influenza A, they risk hospitalization and serious consequences from the flu itself,” he said. “In the week after getting influenza A, they have a heart attack rate six times higher than those who don’t have influenza A. And six months later, half of them may not get it. are not completely restored to their baseline level. »
Not only should Canadians prioritize getting the seasonal flu vaccine, Conway said they should also stay home when they’re not feeling well, wash their hands thoroughly and wear a mask whenever possible.
“Run, don’t go.” Go get vaccinated,” he said. “You can get a flu shot. You may receive a COVID shot, one in each arm or both in the same arm.
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