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Ready for flu season? Key facts about influenza in Canada
TORONTO – The start of flu season is likely just around the corner.
The latest data available from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows sporadic flu activity in most provinces and territories, with 96 lab-confirmed cases of the influenza virus reported in the week ending Oct. 26.
The agency says this is typical activity for the "interseasonal" period, which typically gives way to full-blown flu season at some point in November.
It's less than half the number of diagnoses made during the same week in 2018, when the Canadian flu season got off to an abnormally early start.
With influenza expected to arrive on a larger scale any week now, CTVNews.ca takes a look at this year's expected activity and how Canadians can keep themselves healthy.
THE AUSTRALIAN EXPERIENCE
It was a rough start to the flu season in Australia, where influenza-related hospitalizations were at one point occurring at triple the usual rate.
Australian flu activity tends to be seen as a barometer for what will happen in North America, and the severity of what happened there left authorities here preparing for heavier-than-usual caseloads of their own.
The Ontario government increased its high-dose flu vaccine stockpile in response to the activity in Australia, ordering 1.2 million of the vaccines instead of the 900,000 it had last year. These vaccinations are given to seniors and other vulnerable populations.
However, flu activity in Australia fell from its unusually high early-season activity, spending August and September – typically the peak of the season – at or below average caseload levels. In total, more than 800 flu-related deaths were reported in Australia this year, marking a five-year high.
Health professionals recommend vaccination as the best defence against influenza.
"Everyone should get the flu shot. The reason for that is that we don't only want to protect ourselves, but we also want to protect those most vulnerable," Manvir Sohal, a pharmacist at Rexall, said Tuesday on CTV's Your Morning.
The flu vaccine changes from year to year and country to country based on the specific strains of influenza expected to predominate. This means that the effectiveness of the vaccine can also vary, as different strains of the virus may be more or less prevalent than expected.
"This year, it's a little too early to tell how effective the flu shot will be," Sohal said.
The World Health Organization has said that it expects this year's main strains in the Northern Hemisphere to be H1N1 and H3N2. Those are the only two strains of influenza A to have been reported in Canada since Sept. 1. They were also targeted by Australia's seasonal vaccine, which authorities there said did a good job at preventing the spread of the virus.
Last year's Canadian flu vaccine was considered highly effective. An analysis by the Canadian Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance Network found that the vaccine was 72 per cent effective at preventing H1N1-strain influenza across all age groups.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 34 per cent of adults aged 18 to 64 and 70 per cent of seniors were vaccinated against influenza last year.
NO NASAL SPRAY
FluMist, a nasal spray used as an alternative to the traditional flu shot, is in the midst of a global shortage.
As a result, the Public Health Agency of Canada has warned that the spray will simply not be available in Canada during this flu season.
FluMist typically represents a little less than two per cent of all vaccinations given in Canada. It is most often given to children, who may prefer it to the sight or feeling of a needle in the arm.
Sohal recommends that all children over the age of six months receive vaccinations, with those under the age of five going to a physician and older kids having the option of being vaccinated at a pharmacy.
For parents who normally use the nasal spray and are concerned about how their child might react to a shot, he suggests asking for a topical anesthetic.
"That would numb the area and make it easier to get the flu shot and less painful," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press