Newspaper article The Canadian Press

With Crowded ERs and Some Cancelled Surgeries, Flu Reminds Canada What It Can Do

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

With Crowded ERs and Some Cancelled Surgeries, Flu Reminds Canada What It Can Do

Article excerpt

Flu reminds Canada what flu season can do

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TORONTO - In some places it's surging, in others it's plateaued, and in other parts of the country it may actually be on the wane.

But in most parts of Canada this winter, influenza has been reminding Canadians what a real flu season feels like.

Emergency departments are reporting heavy traffic. Some hospitals have cut back on surgeries. Sales of antiviral drugs have been strong enough to create the possibility of a shortage, prompting the federal government to lend stores of Tamiflu from the national emergency drug stockpile back to the manufacturer, Roche Canada.

After a couple of years of ho-hum flu seasons, some people may be tempted to cast this year as the worst in a decade. This early in the winter it's too soon to predict what the final picture will look like. But it is fair to say this is an active year, flu-wise.

"I think we may have forgotten what real influenza feel like, because for whatever reasons in the post-pandemic period, for us anyway in B.C. the seasons have been quite mild," Dr. Danuta Skowronski, a flu expert at the BC Centre for Disease Control, said Wednesday.

"This season is more like what we expect from an influenza A -- H3 in particular -- season."

Skowronski was referring to the fact that much of the illness this year in Canada is being caused by the influenza A virus H3N2. (Flu viruses that infect humans are mainly from either the influenza A or B family. There are two subtypes of A viruses -- H3N2 and H1N1.)

Winters when H3N2 viruses predominate are generally harder flu seasons because this subtype hits the elderly with particular severity.

In Ontario, a surveillance system that monitors, in real time, the emergency rooms of 72 hospitals around the province is reporting that a lot of people are coming in sick with respiratory viruses, said Dr. Arlene King, the province's chief medical officer of health.

King said Ontario is probably six weeks into what is typically an eight-week cycle of influenza, so flu activity may actually be starting to slow.

Flu season is characterized by a bolus of cases which, when plotted on a graph, looks like a steep curve. But in reality, one can catch the flu at any point in the year. Still, the concentration of cases at a point in the winter creates stress on health-care systems and the sensation that flu is all around.

King noted Ontario is seeing cases of invasive Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can be a complication of influenza and other respiratory viruses. One of the problems with flu is that it can domino into a bacterial pneumonia, and Strep pneumo, as it is called, is the most common of the bacterial pneumonias.

She suggested people who are vulnerable to the complications of flu -- young children, people 65 and older, and people with chronic diseases, especially of the lungs and heart -- should be vaccinated against influenza and pneumococcus. …

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