Is influenza hitting kids harder this year? What you need to know
Published Wednesday, February 14, 2018 8:56PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 15, 2018 10:47AM EST
Influenza appears to be taking a worse-than-usual toll on Canadians this winter, with thousands of hospitalizations and more than 130 deaths, including at least seven children.
Here’s what experts say Canadians need to know about this unusual flu season.
Are children more affected this year?
It’s possible. As of Feb. 3, there were five deaths reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in people under age 16.
Last week, there were two more deaths -- a 12-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy who attended the same school in Guelph, Ont. Officials there said Monday that 10 per cent of students are off sick.
As of Feb. 3, 2018, there were 511 children hospitalized with the flu. That’s compared to 344 hospitalizations and zero deaths in children at this point last flu season.
“Usually what happens is we see the H3N2 or the H1N1 go through and then we have the B peak that happen afterwards. The B is the one that usually has the worst impact on children,” Jason Tetro, a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph, told CTV News Channel.
Is it still worth getting the flu shot?
Toronto infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says that it depends on whether flu activity is still high in your region. The most recent PHAC report shows widespread activity in parts of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Dr. Bogoch told CTV News Channel that the flu vaccine has been less effective than usual this year, and he points out that it takes 10 days to two weeks for the vaccine to take hold, at which point this year’s flu season may be mostly over.
Speaking to the vaccine’s effectiveness, Tetro explained the vaccine is only able to cover certain strains of the flu.
“The problem is that normally when you develop a vaccine, you’re doing it against one particular strain…unfortunately over the last few years we’ve seen that number expand to five.”
Regardless, Tetro added that it is still a good idea to get vaccinated anyway.
“The good news is, when you have the vaccine, you’re partially training your immune system to be able to fight. So by having the vaccine, it’s giving you an opportunity to avoid hospitalization and death.”
Genevieve Cadieux of Ottawa Public Health says anyone with a chronic health problem, like heart or lung disease, should definitely still be immunized.
This year’s flu vaccine is believed to be effective in between 10 and 20 per cent of recipients for the dominant H3N2 strain, and 55 per cent effective in the B/Yamagata strain.
When should people seek medical help?
Dr. Bogoch says it’s normal to have a fever, fatigue and achy muscles with influenza, but it doesn’t mean you need medical attention.
“When people start to have trouble with things like breathing or they’re unable to keep up with their regular fluid intake and they look dehydrated, it’s time go and get help,” he says.
Dr. Bruno DiGravio, the chief of pediatrics at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont., said that parents who suspect the flu shouldn’t bring their children to the hospital unless they’re having trouble breathing.
“You know your child’s in trouble if they can’t drink a glass of water without panting,” he said.
What are some preventative measures?
Tetro recommended regularly washing your hands, keeping surfaces clean, and taking preventative measures if you have contracted the flu by wearing a mask or scarf.
“Studies have shown that you can prevent 60 per cent of the droplets that carry those viruses by making sure that [your mouth] is covered by a scarf.”
With reports from CTV Ottawa and CTV Kitchener