British Columbia

Flu strain stronger, earlier this year, warns B.C. Centre for Disease Control

A doctor and researcher from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says this year's dominant H3N2 flu strain tends to lead to more deaths and hospitalization.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says H3N2 flu strain leads to more deaths

Nurse Valencia Remple left, gives Dr. Danuta Skowronski a flu shot at her office at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. She says it would be wise to get vaccinated this year because early indications show a strong strain circulating. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Initial indications are this year's flu season is starting earlier than usual and the dominant strain will be stronger than last year's, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says.

Lead researcher Dr. Danuta Skowronski says, although it's impossible to forecast the flu season, an "unusually early number of outbreaks" of the influenza virus H3N2 has already been detected at long-term care facilities in multiple provinces.

Typically the flu season doesn't pick up until the end of November and peaks in late December, she says.

This year's dominant strain is also considered more powerful than last year's mild H1N1 strain.

"H3N2 tends to cause more hospitalization and more deaths," Skowronski said.

While healthy young people aren't exempt, this strain of the virus is most likely to target seniors, those with underlying illnesses and children.

"Seventy per cent of deaths due to H3N2 are typically in the elderly," she says. 

Based on data spanning multiple flu seasons across Canada and the U.S., she says 80 per cent of all flu-related deaths can be traced back to H3N2.

Vaccine hits the right strain

Skowronski says the "silver lining" is that this year's vaccine does help protect against the strain.

That wasn't the case two years ago when it was also an H3N2 year but the flu vaccine was mismatched, contributing to one of the worst years on record, she notes.

She says it's important to get vaccinated this year considering most people's resistance to the strain will likely have waned in recent years. 

Last year, she says only 35 per cent of adults in the four largest provinces of Canada, including B.C., opted to get the flu vaccine.

Free flu vaccines

Immunize B.C. recommends anyone older than six months of age be vaccinated.

The cost of a flu shot ranges from $20 to $30.

Free vaccines are provided to people who are considered at high risk, including seniors, children, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions.

Those who are likely to spread the flu to people with a higher risk are also eligible for a free shot.

To get a flu shot, head to your doctor, a health clinic, certain pharmacies or a travel clinic. 

Keep in mind, pharmacies are only able to administer shots to children five years and older.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, in its latest FluWatch report, says 39 regions in Canada reported no influenza activity between Oct. 5-19. Sporadic influenza activity was reported in 11 regions across five provinces: B,C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Yukon. Localized activity was reported in one region in B.C. and one region in Nova Scotia

With files from Kamil Karamali