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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Central zone active cases slightly up

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Andrea Benoit (front) belts out one of the tunes during rehearsals in this file photo. Photo submitted
‘Songs you want to sing!’ set for Nov. 28

Concert will be held completely virtually if needed

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer.
photo submitted
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Traffic crosses over the Lions Gate Bridge from North Vancouver into Vancouver on July 2, 2015. Motorists would have to pay a fee to drive into downtown Vancouver under the city's plan to slow climate change but one expert warns it could pose financial hardship for some. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver’s climate plan ‘first 10 steps in a journey of 10,000,’ says expert

Almost 40 per cent of Vancouver’s carbon pollution comes from vehicles

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
After COVID-related transplant delays, 16-year-old N.S. girl gets lung transplant

‘This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated’

Most Read