Flu blamed in 9 Manitoba deaths, more expected in coming months

There have been nine deaths confirmed to be flu related in Manitoba, but that's nothing out of the ordinary, according to provincial officials.

Province's chief public health officer says flu season is "above average" in severity

Public health officials estimate 10-20 per cent of Manitobans are infected with one of the seasonal influenza viruses every year. It is also estimated there are approximately 400 hospitalizations and about 120 deaths annually. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

So far this season, Manitoba has seen nine lab-confirmed flu-related deaths, and more are likely on the way, according to the province's chief public health officer.

Dr. Michael Routledge released the numbers Friday, noting there have been a total of 480 reported cases of lab-confirmed influenza.

Routledge said this year is shaping up to be an "above average" season for cases of the flu, but that was predicted months ago.

Part of the reason for the increase in cases is a mismatch between the vaccine and the virus, Routledge said.

The virus has mutated since the vaccine was developed and distributed, meaning it's not as effective in protecting people from the flu.

Routledge said that can happen, but he doesn't remember the last time it was the case. Routledge also cautioned officials will not know how effective the vaccine was this season until the end of the year.

“Influenza [vaccines] tends to be more in the 50 to 70 per cent range [of effectiveness],” said Routledge. “Probably with this shift in the virus, it’s probably below 50 per cent. We won’t know for some time after the season really how effective it was.”

For those still hoping to avoid the flu, Routledge said there are about two more weeks left of the major flu "wave" we see every flu season.

“A typical influenza wave is about six weeks. We probably started our wave about three-four weeks ago so we’re probably just past our peak and I suspect over the next couple of weeks and this is going to do what it does every single year and start to taper off,” he said. 

He explained while the flu season lasts from November to April, generally officials see about a six-week long "wave" that has it's own peak. 

Typically, Manitoba sees about nine lab-confirmed flu-related deaths per flu season, but officials believe about 120 people die from flu viruses every year in the province. The disparity is because many cases are not lab tested.

Routledge said this year, it's likely there will be more lab-reported flu death numbers over the remainder of the season, pushing the number above the average for the year.

He said that could be due to the above average season or it could be partially due to better reporting and capturing of data.

Routledge said this year's severe flu cases are predominantly in the elderly, which was expected.

“Could we have another wave later in the season? Yes. Could it be with, for example, an Influenza B, that the vaccine is effective against? Yes," he said.

Confirmed cases could rise in coming days

Public health officials estimate 10 to 20 per cent of Manitobans are infected with one of the seasonal influenza viruses every year. It is also estimated there are approximately 400 hospitalizations and about 120 deaths annually.

The current number of confirmed flu cases is expected to rise in the coming days as the number of requests for lab tests have increased, the news release stated.

Many others become ill with the flu but manage their symptoms and recover at home without lab tests to confirm the infection, the release added.

The flu can spread easily from one person to another through coughing, sneezing or sharing food or drinks. People can also get it by touching objects contaminated with flu virus and then touching their mouths, eyes or noses.

Symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include cough and a fever, sore throat, muscle aches, joint pain and exhaustion.

Public health officials say the elderly and very young, along with people with chronic conditions, could be most affected.

People can take steps to reduce the risk:

  • Washing their hands regularly.
  • Practising good cough and sneeze etiquette by coughing or sneezing into an elbow, sleeve or tissue.
  • Contacting their health-care provider or community public health clinic to get a flu shot.
  • Staying home if sick.

with files from CBC's Teghan Beaudette


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