The 2018-19 flu season is off to a strong start, with no end in sight.
“This flu season started earlier than the previous two seasons, and we’re still seeing increased influenza activity,” said Barbara Gauthier, public health epidemiologist with Interior Health.
Since the start of this flu season, there have been 674 confirmed cases of influenza, compared to 393 confirmed cases the same time last year.
The increased number could be related to the fact more influenza testing is being done in the Interior, and results are getting back to the health authority faster, Gauthier said.
“We might have an increased number of tests, which would impact the number of cases that we see.”
In the past, all of the influenza tests were sent to the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, and it took a few days to get the results.
Now, testing is being done the same day or the next day.
Last week saw the highest number of confirmed influenza cases in the Interior so far this season.
“So far, we are seeing an increased number of confirmed influenza cases, and we haven’t started to see it decline steadily yet,” said Gauthier.
The peak of flu season is different every year, depending on the strain, she said.
“It’s not very easy to standardize across years.”
So far this season, the dominant strain has been influenza A H1N1, which predominantly affects children under 10 years old as opposed to elderly people.
“We’re seeing children under the age of 10 disproportionately impacted in terms of confirmed influenza cases,” said Gauthier.
This is in contrast to the last two seasons, which have predominantly affected the older population.
While there have been flu outbreaks at IH seniors care homes this season, the number of outbreaks has been far less than last year and the year before, said Gauthier.
With several months left in flu season, IH is still recommending people who have yet to get the flu shot do so, especially children.
“The vaccine is a good match this year,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, medical health officer with IH. “We are seeing hospitalizations among children, and it’s very important that they get the flu shot.”
Later on this season, Influenza B, which is also covered by this year’s vaccine, is expected to affect people.
This strain also predominantly affects children, said Mema.
“We want people to get the flu shot this week and next week so we know by mid-February everybody is well protected,” she said. “The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against influenza and to protect your loved ones.”
Mema said she has not heard of any supply issues with respect to the flu shot this year.
“We have vaccines and we want to use them,” she said. “People with children can make appointments with IH for family clinics, and we encourage them to do that.”