FluWatch report claims as many as 20 deaths from flu in Canada, and a huge jump in the US
Beacon Staff Reporter
Influenza activity in Canada continued unabated between Dec. 16 and Dec. 29, according to the latest FluWatch report issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
According to FluWatch reports, emergency departments are reporting huge rush and some hospitals have cancelled surgeries. In Alberta, some hospitals have cancelled procedures and many are reporting emergency rooms clogged with people with respiratory infections.
The demand for antiviral drugs has also been strong, enough so to create the possibility of a shortage and prompting the federal government to lend stores of Tamiflu from the national emergency drug stockpile back to the manufacturer, Roche Canada.
Dr. Bill Dickout, medical director for Alberta Health Services’ Edmonton zone, reminded people that in many cases, flu can be managed at home without medical care. People who are having trouble breathing or who are becoming dehydrated are the ones who should seek help, he said.
Flu costs heavily in terms of productivity for Canada as around 7.5 million workdays are lost annually. On an average, people with flu miss 3 to 5 workdays. If they come to work with the flu, their productivity drops by 50 per cent. Those who work with people having the flu also experience a drop in productivity.
Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone, said the numbers for the past couple of weeks suggest the flu season may have plateaued, but said he couldn’t be sure.
In Ontario a surveillance system that monitors the situation in real time revealed that the emergency rooms of 72 hospitals around the province have reported many people falling sick with respiratory viruses, said Dr. Arlene King, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
“We are in respiratory infectious disease season. We need to prevent flu, of course, through immunization. But we also need to make sure that people are appropriately immunized with pneumococcal vaccine as well,” Dr King said, adding that other respiratory viruses can also lead to pneumococcal pneumonia.
A spokesperson for Quebec’s public health agency said flu activity appears to have peaked over the Christmas holidays. While emergency rooms were busy, the agency did not receive reports of cancelled surgeries.
In Manitoba, the chief provincial public health officer said the flu season there has been brisk. Visits to hospital emergency departments are definitely up, but hospitals haven’t had to cancel surgeries, Dr. Michael Routledge said.
“The system’s been able to cope with it, but it has been certainly busier than normal.”
Routledge also noted the province has seen a lot of infections with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, which can hit at any age but is particularly hard on children. Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital has been stretched to cope with RSV cases, he said.
The authorities are informing people about the benefits of a flu immunization program because it not only protects an individual from getting the flu, but reduces absenteeism in offices while maximizing productivity and profitability.
FFF Enterprises, the Largest Flu vaccine distributor in the U.S., said that preparation and vaccination will combat a flu outbreak in the region as reports suggest that the 2012-2013 flu season may be one of the most severe in over a decade.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current influenza outbreak began much earlier this year and has been more severe than any in recent memory. Currently, 41 states in the U.S. are now reporting widespread flu cases, 29 of which are reporting high or “severe” levels.
In New York State, flu cases are skyrocketing; during last year’s entire flu season, only 4,400 cases were reported. So far this season, there have been more than 15,000 — an increase of close to 250 per cent.
The FluWatch report for Canada said that a total of 4,632 laboratory detections of influenza were reported, of which 97.7 per cent were for influenza A viruses, predominantly A(H3N2). In addition, 127 new influenza outbreaks were reported, 87 of which were in long-term care facilities.
Some 114 new pediatric influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported through the IMPACT network, and 176 hospitalizations including 15 deaths among adults over 20 years were reported through Aggregate surveillance, the FluWatch report said.