‘Get vaccinated’: As flu cases surpass seasonal threshold in Canada, experts urge caution – National

‘Get vaccinated’: As flu cases surpass seasonal threshold in Canada, experts urge caution – National

Like cases the flu continue to spread across the country, flu activity has passed the seasonal threshold, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

With the weekly percentage of positive flu tests at 6.4 percent — above the seasonal threshold of 5.0 percent — the country could be on its way to a flu epidemic, according to a recent report Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

“Flu season has started and is going out with a bang,” Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, told Global News.

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Although flu cases occur every year, according to Bogoch, this flu season appears faster than most.

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Flu cases “much higher” this season

Despite the first two years of the COVID pandemic, where flu activity remained low, the percentage of tests that are currently positive for the flu is “much higher” than what would normally be expected, Bogoch said.

Next week, if flu levels remain this high, or anywhere above the 5.0 percent threshold, PHAC plans to declare a nationwide outbreak, the agency said in its latest flu report. Between October 16 and 29, 1,508 laboratory detections of influenza were reported.

Provinces including Ontario and New Brunswick have recently reported localized influenza activity in four regions. Additionally, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta all also reported sporadic activity in 20 regions.

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At this time in 2016, influenza activity was at mid-season levels, with most Canadian regions reporting low or no influenza activity. U 2017 at this point it remained below the seasonal threshold.

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So far this flu season, more than half of those infected have been children and teenagers.

A total of 17 laboratory-confirmed flu outbreaks have also been reported across Canada since reporting began on August 28. Six of these outbreaks were in long-term care facilities, three in acute care facilities, and one in a school or daycare center.

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Increased flu activity is primarily seen with the influenza A virus, according to PHAC.

Across the border in the United States, an early surge in flu cases pushed the hospitalization rate to the highest mark in a decade for this time of year, US health officials said Friday.

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“I wouldn’t be surprised if (Canada sees) what they see, a few weeks later,” Bogoch said. “One of the challenges we have is that our health system is already stretched. We are already in a difficult position, and the flu season is really in its infancy.”

“We know it will add additional stressors to an already overburdened health care system,” Bogoch added.

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In Canada, the flu causes an estimated 12,200 hospitalizations each year the federal government. It is also among the ten leading causes of death in the country, claiming the lives of approximately 3,500 people each year.

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Since the start of the flu season this year, 72 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported. There were also eight admissions to intensive care.

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Get a flu shot, experts say

The best way to stay protected from the flu, health experts say, is to get a flu shot.

“It’s really simple. It is important that people get vaccinated,” Bogoč said. “(Vaccines are) very good in terms of protecting people from the flu and if you do get it, they can lessen the severity of the illness.”

Hand hygiene and wearing a mask indoors can also “significantly reduce” the risk of catching the flu or other respiratory viruses, Bogoch says.

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Other health experts, including Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tamalso urged Canadians to get their flu shot, along with their bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, to stay protected as the colder months approach.

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In addition to the flu, PHAC is also preparing for the “worst case scenario” when it comes COVID-19 variants this fall because the re-emergence of the virus is looming.

“We have just been through the biggest pandemic of the current era and it is very important that we take into account the lessons learned and be as objective as possible,” Tam said last month.

In addition to influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity has also increased above expected levels for this time of year, according to PHAC.

However, when it comes to the transmission of other respiratory viruses, PHAC says activity is “relatively stable” and almost expected for this time of year.

— With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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