British Columbia

B.C. flu cases 'exceptionally low' this year

The number of influenza cases in B.C. is dramatically down from previous years, with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, crediting COVID-19 measures — in part — for the exceptional decline.

There are usually as many as 800 influenza cases at this point in the season, but this year there have been 7

A man prepares to get a flu shot at a pharmacy in October. Health officials in B.C. report that influenza cases are way down this year compared to previous years. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As health officials in British Columbia continue to count hundreds of new COVID-19 cases each day, a different respiratory virus is infecting far fewer people this year than normal — influenza.

According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, the province generally sees between 700-800 influenza cases by this time in the flu season. This year that number is only about seven.

"We are looking for it and we are not seeing a lot of influenza circulating right now," said Henry, adding that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control tracks influenza  and provides regular updates.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters on Monday that the good news isn't limited to B.C.

"Based on both national and provincial surveillance, all indicators for influenza activity remain exceptionally low," he said.

There has been more testing this year, according to Dix, but there's no evidence influenza is circulating in the community and no outbreaks have been recorded at long-term care facilities.

The health minister gave an update on influenza vaccinations at the Monday COVID-19 update, saying 2,027,300 doses had been distributed to regional health authorities by the BCCDC, and more shots had been administered this year compared to last.

As an example, he said pharmacists had reportedly administered 808,001 doses as of Nov. 23. At the same time last year, pharmacists had administered 518,025 doses of the vaccine.

Henry said that part of the reason influenza transmission has been so low this year is because of all the measures people are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"It is transmitted in very similar ways, through droplets that we inhale from somebody who's been sick," she said.

Henry said it's good to see so many people getting their flu shots, and she hopes the low rate of transmission will continue through the season.