'Mild' influenza season just starting in London and Middlesex

Health officials are reporting dozens of confirmed influenza cases across the London and Middlesex region, which is seeing a milder and later start to the influenza season.

There have been 54 confirmed cases of influenza A in the region

There have been 54 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A in the region. (Radio-Canada)

Health officials are reporting dozens of confirmed influenza cases across the London and Middlesex region, which is seeing a milder and later start to the influenza season.

There have been 54 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza A in the region, according to a Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) report. It collected the numbers over a three-week period between Dec. 16, 2018 and Jan. 5, 2019, and found that more than 30 people have been hospitalized.

The report also suggests there has been one outbreak at a long-term care facility.

However, Jody Paget, manager of vaccine preventable diseases at the MLHU, said "we're seeing a mild season compared to last year."

During a similar time period last year, officials reported 201 laboratory confirmed cases, 107 hospitalizations, 24 outbreaks and four deaths.

However, a mild start to the season shouldn't be an indicator to how the rest of it will unfold.

"We always hope it will continue to be mild, but the reality is influenza is very unpredictable. It changes from year to year and moreover it can change mid-season," said Paget.

H1N1 virus

This year's season is ramping up after the holidays, whereas last year, hospitals saw people pouring in much earlier. Officials also saw more cases of influenza B — a less severe strain.

What's different this year is the increase in influenza A patients with the H1N1 virus.

Of the cases that have already been subtyped, the MLHU reported nine people with the virus this year. Last year, that number was one.

However, the strain of swine flu that resulted in more than 120 deaths across the province back in 2009 shouldn't be a worry, said Paget, noting officials observe the virus every year.

"There's lots of immunity for H1N1 out there," she said, adding that the current vaccine includes a H1N1 protecting strain, among others.

"What we would be more concerned about is some unusual subtype that we haven't seen — some novel subtype that we don't have any protection for in the vaccine. That would be more worrisome at this point," she said.

Hospitals see influx

Local hospitals are already dealing with an influx of patients with flu-like symptoms, despite a milder start to the season.

As a result of "exceedingly high" patient volumes, the St. Joseph's Urgent Care Centre had to close early several times over the holidays to ensure patient safety.

"It allows the team to see the patients already registered and waiting in a timely fashion. This was necessary a few times during the holiday period. The decision to close early is based on the number of patients waiting for care, the acuity and health care needs of those waiting, and the number of physicians we have working," said a hospital official in a statement to CBC News.

Officials at the London Health Sciences Centre also noted an increase in influenza cases, "but the numbers are typical of what would be expected during the influenza/respiratory virus season."

People are advised to get vaccinated and learn about the symptoms associated with influenza including respiratory pain, fever and cough.

"It's a good time to wash your hands a little bit more, stay home when you're sick, cover your cough and use alcohol hand sanitizer and step up your cleaning a little bit," said Paget.

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