A combination of the flu and COVID-19 dubbed — flurona — does not exist, says Alberta Health.
“There have been no reported cases of an individual with both influenza and COVID-19 in Alberta. The public health measures in place for COVID-19 are effective at preventing other respiratory illnesses, including influenza,” said a statement from the department.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will make adjustments as necessary to protect the health of Albertans.”
That monitoring includes asking visitors to Red Deer’s COVID testing centre if they want to volunteer to be tested for the flu to keep an eye out for the seasonal illness.
“It would be terrible to be so focused on COVID and have an epidemic of flu coming up and overwhelming us as well. Fortunately, that’s not happening,” said Dr. James Dickinson, director of the TARRANT Viral Watch program at the University of Calgary involved in detecting influenza-like illness in Alberta.
Funded by Alberta Health, TARRANT has been compiling annual influenza data for many years, which is forwarded to the province, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and ultimately the World Health Organization.
Data is used to measure what viruses are circulating and vaccine effectiveness which helps scientists to improve future vaccines.
Normally TARRANT relies on tests taken at family doctor offices, but during the pandemic people are more likely to go to a COVID testing centre. Samples are collected from a few specific centres, including the one in Red Deer, and from doctor’s offices in areas where there are no testing centres.
“It’s what we need to do to understand what’s happening with illness in the community.”
“Earlier in the fall there was some flu, and a few other viral and respiratory illness. At the moment, there’s not much except COVID,” Dickinson said.
“There was some flu in the Southern Hemisphere. There appears to be less in the Northern Hemisphere this year fortunately.”
Alberta laboratories are overwhelmed right now, so flu testing is limited, and assessments are running behind, he said.
So far Alberta Health Services has only reported 34 cases of lab-confirmed influenza for the 2021-22 season. Most were reported in AHS Edmonton Zone, and none were in AHS Central Zone.
Alberta didn’t have a single recorded case of influenza last flu season, due in part to record high immunization against the virus, when about 1.65 million Albertans rolled up their sleeves and received the vaccine.
Dickinson said more people are concerned about COVID-19 so fewer people got the flu vaccine this season. Still, the flu is unlikely to be a big problem, particularly as people are taking respiratory virus precautions like wearing masks, staying away from groups and washing their hands.
He said if there aren’t many flu cases, there won’t be much information collected. Usually January is the peak of the influenza epidemic.
“Normally the flu comes around every year and all of us end up being in contact with it, or most of us. That keeps on boosting our immunity. To have several years with no flu, maybe our immunity to the flu might reduce. That is a possibility, but that’s speculation. We’re treading into uncharted territory. We really don’t know.”