A needle and syringe used to administer the flu shot in shown in Virgil, Ont., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

A needle and syringe used to administer the flu shot in shown in Virgil, Ont., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Flu season in Canada ‘exceptionally low’ so far, public health says

COVID-19 is proving to be worse this fall, with more than 1,400 people in hospital

At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza.

So far this year, there have been just 17.

“Influenza is way behind the eight ball here,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of infectious disease in the department of medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Many health experts feared that a fall wave of COVID-19 would not only be worse than the first wave in the spring, but it would come just as seasonal flu infections started to spread, making it impossible for hospitals to keep up.

COVID-19 is proving to be worse this fall, with more than 1,400 people in hospital, about one-fifth of them in critical care. The flu, however, is not.

In the first week of November, not one province or territory reported a single patient hospitalized with the flu, compared with 60 during the same week a year ago.

In 2019, provinces reported 147 lab-confirmed cases of flu the first week of November. This year, they reported four.

This despite testing more than twice as many people for flu than usual — almost 10,000 tests done in the first week of November, compared to a six-year average of about 4,500.

“The percentage of laboratory tests positive for influenza has remained at exceptionally low levels,” says the Public Health Agency of Canada’s weekly flu watch report.

Signs from the Southern Hemisphere, which gets hit with flu season first, were reason to hope the “twindemic” wasn’t going to happen here.

READ MORE: Flu shot demand up and getting more supply won’t be easy, feds say

New Zealand said its flu infections were down 99.8 per cent and in Australia lab-confirmed cases of flu were down 93 per cent. In 2019, more than 800 Australians died of the flu. In 2020, that number to date is 36.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported only one case of the flu out of about 4,000 random surveillance tests performed. Most years the program detects about 1,000 cases.

While Canada’s flu season is still in the early days — it typically starts in late August and dies out in April — Evans said all the signs here suggest Canada will report similar numbers in the end.

He said most of the credit goes to the public health measures taken to slow COVID-19, the hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as the dramatic drop in international travel.

Evans said even if travellers from abroad are getting in, they’re less likely to bring the flu with them because influenza is so low elsewhere as well.

Canada is also pushing the flu vaccine harder than ever, and Canadians are listening. Although Canadian provinces ordered almost 25 per cent more flu shots than last year, many can’t keep up with demand.

Alberta has already vaccinated 1.14 million people, less than a month after the vaccine became available there. In 2019, the province vaccinated 1.4 million total.

Evans said a more-vaccinated population fighting back a virus that is less prevalent, is going to make this flu season a non-event.

“It’s the perfect storm not to have a very good influenza season,” he said.

Not only will that help hospitals cope with COVID-19, it means fewer Canadians are going to die.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusflu season

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Canadian Red Cross staff engaged in a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and social distancing training exercise. (Luc Alary / Canadian Red Cross)
Red Cross canvassers following PHO guidelines while going door-to-door

Canvassers using safety protocols including masks and distancing to continue organization’s efforts

Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl, pictured here in 2017, has harsh words about the federal government’s Fall Economic Statement. (Black Press file)
Chilliwack MP Mark Strahl says Liberal government is leaving millions of Canadians behind

Strahl delivered a blistering critique of the federal government’s Fall Economic Statement

Seabird Island Chief Jim Harris thanked the community for embracing the checkpoints and the workers who operate them. Community members have delivered snacks, hot drinks and extra lights to those keeping watch at the entrances of the community. (Screenshot/Seabird Island Band)
Seabird Island chief thanks community for embracing entrance checkpoints

Community members taking care of workers with extra lights, warm drinks, Chief Harris says

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

(Needpix.com)
Fraudsters projected to use pet scams to gouge over $3M from customers: BBB

The pandemic heavily contributed to the number of puppy scams

Most Read