Flu is increasing in Canada with two regions in Ontario reporting widespread activity and seven provinces showing localized outbreaks, health officials say.

"Weekly reports from the health care frontlines show high numbers of patients with influenza-like symptoms visiting doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and higher numbers than usual of lab-confirmed influenza cases, especially in southwestern and eastern Ontario," Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said in a release Thursday.


The flu shot offers about 60 per cent protection each year, research suggests. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

The influenza virus is also spreading in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Faith Stratton, the province's chief medical officer of health said noting this year's vaccine protects against two strains of the virus.

Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said there was localized flu activity in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador during the first week of December.

"Influenza activity in Canada continued to increase," the agency said in its weekly report.

The prescription rate for antiviral medications also continued to increase, the federal agency said.

Dr. Michael Gardam, director of the infection prevention and control unit at the University Health Network in Toronto, suggested three proven ways to avoid getting sick with flu, colds and other respiratory illnesses:

"The flu shot definitely works," said Dr. Michael Gardam, director of the infection prevention and control unit at the University Health Network in Toronto.

"Overall, roughly 60 per cent protection each year, so it's certainly better than doing nothing and there's really no downside."

Handwashing also has support in the medical literature, he said.

"Studies have shown that if you wash your hands at least five times a day you will significantly reduce your risk," of getting respiratory viruses.

Whether hand washing protects against flu viruses in particular isn't known, Gardam said.

Many studies also suggest that respiratory viruses infect us by entering through the eyes, nose and mouth.

People catch colds from being coughed on or from surfaces, such as touching a contaminated handle and then rubbing your nose.

It's less clear how flu viruses spread person to person, he said.

Ontario's health ministry suggested sneezing and coughing into your sleeve and staying home when you’re sick as other ways to prevent spread of flu.

The strains of flu viruses that are circulating varies in North America this year. In Canada, the influenza A(H3N2) strain predominates, while in the U.S., a mix of A(H3N2) and influenza B have been detected and in Mexico influenza B is predominant, PHAC said.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber