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Flu hits early and hard

Written by: Nicole Riva and Cassandra Drudi, QMI Agency
Jan. 14, 2013


A flu bug that's hit the country harder than previous years is starting to wane in central Canada. But whether the worst is over is anyone's guess.

Monique St-Laurent, the Public Health Agency of Canada's director of surveillance and outbreak response, said the flu season arrived early this season, and hit certain areas worse than others.

"The flu comes in waves, and what we've found is that Quebec and Ontario were earlier hit than most of the other provinces and territories," she said Monday.

In the first reporting week of the year -- Dec. 30 to Jan. 5 -- there were a total of 3,864 lab-confirmed cases nationwide. In 2011, that number was 1,879. In 2012, it was only 109.

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So far in the 2012-2013 flu season, the level of flu activity is equivalent to that of the entire 2011-2012 flu season, St-Laurent said.

And while cases might be slowing down in some areas, places such as Edmonton, Calgary and all of Newfoundland are still being hammered by the bug.

Many hospitals have restricted visitor access to control the spread, and surgeries in Calgary and Edmonton were recently put off due to staff busy with new flu patients.

St-Laurent says this year's flu shot is a good match to the virus, and since the flu comes in waves and can infect people as late as March or April, it's never too late to get the flu shot.

The Public Health Agency of Canada doesn't keep track of how many people get the flu shot nationally each year.

Calgary family physician Dr. Rick Ward says patients who received the flu shot this year but still got sick had the least severe cases.

In the last couple of years, he has noticed that fewer people have gotten the vaccine.

"I think we've been lulled into a false sense of security," Ward said. "Especially with last year's flu not being as severe, I worry that there may be a growing apathy.

"Maybe the severity of this year's strain will remind people that influenza is a significant illness and the best way to prevent that is through immunization and handwashing."

The other concern is that because the flu struck early, it may hit again in the early spring, Ward said.

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