Rapidly rising hospitalizations suggest this influenza season could be one of the worst Alberta has seen in years, says Alberta Health Services.
So far, most of the rising hospitalizations this month are not due to COVID-19, but the flu.
Alberta is seeing an early and steep increase in influenza activity, according to an AHS spokesperson. As of Nov. 5, there were 146 hospitalizations across the province due to the flu; 13 of these patients were admitted to intensive care units (ICU).
The Public Health Agency of Canada said in its FluWatch report that the rate of influenza cases nearly doubled in one week, to 11.7 per cent between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, compared to 6.3 per cent the week before.
The agency declared an epidemic, which happens most years after the threshold of a five per cent positivity rate is surpassed, though it said influenza levels are higher than would have been expected when compared to pre-pandemic years.
Of influenza hospitalizations in Alberta, according to publicly available provincial data, 46 cases have been in children under nine years of age and four of those were admitted to ICU.
In the Central Zone, eight people were hospitalized with influenza as of Nov. 5, with one person admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.
“In the last few weeks, we have seen a large rise in cough and fever-type sickness in our schools across the province,” said an AHS spokesperson in an email.
Dr. Christopher Sikora, medical officer of health in Edmonton, noted there is a lot of school absenteeism across Alberta due to the flu, as well as COVID-19 and the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
According to Red Deer Public Schools Attendance tracker, the student absentee rate due to illness was 8.3 per cent as of Tuesday. Six schools were over 10 per cent.
“It’s reassuring to see that parents are keeping their kids home,” he said. “Staying home until you’re better is one of those big things you can do to help keep others from getting sick.”
Calgary’s medical officer of health, Dr. Karla Gustafson, said there are other ways to reduce the risk.
“It’s really important that children are vaccinated against COVID and influenza to help reduce that burden of illness,” she said.
Masks, they said, are also proven to be effective to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
“It’s encouraged for people who do feel comfortable doing it,” said Gustafson.
In the case of the flu, most children who get it will recover without complications, some kids can get very sick. This situation is compounded by a lack of Tylenol, Advil and other children’s medications available on store shelves.
AHS advises parents to talk to their pharmacists or doctors about possible alternatives or any questions they may have related to the administering of medications, either prescription or over the counter.
“We want to remind all Albertans that preventing influenza this winter is important” since it can have serious or even fatal consequences — especially for vulnerable people, the AHS spokesperson added. The best guess of health experts is that flu cases will peak in December.
Influenza is unlike the common cold. Both are respiratory viruses, however, influenza usually begins with a sudden onset of fever, cough, body aches, headache and feeling very tired.
Most healthy people will recover in seven-to-10 days, however, it can take one to two weeks to fully recover.
While some provinces are again talking about setting masking policies, AHS recommends getting a flu shot as the best protection from becoming sick with influenza.
The AHS spokesperson added that influenza vaccines are available free of charge to Albertans six months of age and older. The vaccine being used this season provides protection against the Influenza A H3N2 virus that is currently circulating, plus three additional strains.
It takes up to two weeks to develop immunity after receiving the influenza vaccine.
-With files from The Canadian Press