It’s not the press release you might expect from the local Public Health unit, after all, why would you need a press release that announces the arrival of flu season? In COVID times though, the return of influenza is a moment because there was almost no flu last year. Still, as our region’s Medical Officer of Health said in a statement on Thursday, the flu’s return “isn’t unexpected.”
“The pandemic caused a significant decline in reported flu cases, but the flu never left us,” said Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement. “As we continue to fight the pandemic locally, we don’t want to overwhelm the health system with patients ill with the flu so it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot to reduce your risk of serious illness and protect the vulnerable people in your life.”
To give some idea of what the last flu season looked like, Health Canada’s Flu Watch report for the week of February 28, 2021 had recorded only 64 influenza detections for the season at that point. Normally, by the end of February, there have been over 38,000 cases of the flu reported, and it’s not like Canada’s doctors and public officials weren’t actively looking for instances of the flu. Indeed, by the first week of March, nearly twice as many flu tests as normal had been administered.
Of the 64 cases reported, only about half of them were linked to community spread. In fact, the number of flu cases were so low last year that Health Canada could not officially declare the start of flu season. That requires a threshold of five per cent positive influenza tests and a minimum of 15 positive cases nationally in a one-week period.
According to the U.S. Centres of Disease Control (CDC), the unusually low flow activity last year was owed to COVID mitigation measures like mask wearing, hand washing and people staying home when they’re asleep. There was also a record number flu vaccine distributed in 2020-21, with over 193 million being given out in the U.S. alone.
Speaking of this flu shot, this year’s vaccine will be available on or around October 18. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health will be running flu vaccine clinics at their Chancellors Way and Orangeville offices as well as Stone Road Mall and the Fergus Sportsplex starting on October 18. Members of the public can book their appointments online now, or consult their family doctor or local pharmacy.
Should you get a flu shot? Public Health says it’s recommended for pregnant women, anyone over 65 years of age, children between 6 months and 4 years old, adults and children with chronic health conditions, people who provide essential community services and anyone that works in the poultry industry.