Flu sea­son may have peaked in De­cem­ber, re­port finds, but num­ber of cases still high

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - CARLY WEEKS KELLY GRANT

The worst of Canada’s flu sea­son may be over, ac­cord­ing to new na­tional fig­ures.

The weekly flu re­port pub­lished on Fri­day by the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada shows that from Dec. 30, 2018, to Jan. 5, 2019, lab-con­firmed in­fluenza cases were down from the week prior, sug­gest­ing the flu sea­son may have reached its peak dur­ing the last week of De­cem­ber. But the re­port warns that the num­ber of flu cases across the coun­try re­mains high.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials are pay­ing ex­tra at­ten­tion to how in­fluenza is af­fect­ing chil­dren this year be­cause of the resur­gence of H1N1, a strain of In­fluenza A that hits young peo­ple par­tic­u­larly hard and is best known as the cul­prit be­hind the 2009-10 flu pan­demic.

At least six chil­dren younger than the age of 10 died after fall­ing ill with the flu so far this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral re­port, which uses in­for­ma­tion from 12 pe­di­atric hos­pi­tals across Canada. It also showed 95 chil­dren have been ad­mit­ted to in­ten­sive-care units as a re­sult of the virus, most younger than the age of 10. Nearly all of the pe­di­atric ill­nesses are linked to H1N1.

Three preschool­ers have died in Saskatchewan as a re­sult of the flu so far this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the provin­cial health min­istry. It’s un­clear if the three deaths are in­cluded in the six pe­di­atric deaths re­ported by the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada.

It’s hard to gauge how lethal the flu sea­son has been for chil­dren across the coun­try be­cause On­tario, Que­bec and British Columbia don’t track in­fluenza-re­lated deaths in real time.

Smaller prov­inces do keep count, al­though of­fi­cial num­bers typ­i­cally only cap­ture a sub­set of flu cases. Most peo­ple who be­come sick with the virus are never tested.

So far this sea­son, New­found­land and Labrador and Nova Sco­tia have each recorded one death in which the pa­tient had a lab-con­firmed case of the flu. New Brunswick is aware of four such cases, Man­i­toba has logged five and Al­berta has recorded 17. None of those deaths have been chil­dren.

Lau­ren­tiu Givelichian, the head of pe­di­atrics for the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Au­thor­ity, said that in his prov­ince, the flu isn’t just af­fect­ing more kids than usual – it’s mak­ing them sicker, too.

“There is an in­crease in the sever­ity of the dis­ease,” Dr. Givelichian said.

Nor­mally, he would ad­vise par­ents of chil­dren with run-of-themill flu symp­toms to treat them at home with rest, flu­ids and over-the-counter med­i­ca­tions to con­trol fever. This year, in Saskatchewan at least, he said chil­dren with flu symp­toms should see a health pro­fes­sional right away.

“We can­not take the risk any more,” he said. “I know that will be a lit­tle bit over­whelm­ing for the health-care providers any­where in the coun­try, but un­for­tu­nately this year, be­cause of the dif­fer­ent type of dis­ease and the sever­ity of the dis­ease, I think that a child should be seen sooner rather than later.”

Dr. Givelichian said two of the three preschool­ers who suc­cumbed to in­fluenza in his prov­ince died in the pe­di­atric in­ten­sive-care unit of the Royal Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal in Saska­toon, while a third died be­fore the child could be air­lifted to the same hos­pi­tal.

Dr. Givelichian said an­other six chil­dren in the prov­ince have been treated for in­fluenza in in­ten­sive-care units. None of them had been vac­ci­nated, he said.

In New Brunswick, where no chil­dren have died with a lab­con­firmed di­ag­no­sis of in­fluenza, the virus still seems to be tar­get­ing a younger de­mo­graphic than in the last few sea­sons.

“This year, the flu is af­fect­ing young to mid­dle-aged peo­ple with chronic dis­eases,” said Jen­nifer Rus­sell, New Brunswick’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health. Of the 156 pa­tients who have been ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal in the prov­ince this sea­son – 27 of them to the in­ten­sive-care unit – a “large pro­por­tion,” have not been im­mu­nized, she added.

“Peo­ple get lulled into the idea that [in­fluenza] is not as se­ri­ous as it can be, es­pe­cially for those most vul­ner­a­ble,” Dr. Rus­sell said.

She and other pub­lic-health ex­perts urged Cana­di­ans who have not yet been vac­ci­nated to get the shot as soon as pos­si­ble.

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