What Manitobans need to know about the flu at the peak of the season
Answers to frequently asked questions about the flu, going to the doctor with symptoms and the vaccine
One person has died from the flu this season, Manitoba Health has confirmed, but the families of two other young people say their deaths were due to complications arising from the infectious virus.
Blaine Ruppenthal, a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, died Monday after suffering medical complications, according to a family member.
Joanne Ens, 24, from Morden, Man., died Jan. 6 after battling the flu since New Year's Day. She contracted a bacterial infection that she was unable to recover from, her family said. She suffered from asthma as well.
Manitobans might be concerned following the news of these deaths. Here's what health-care experts have to say about influenza.
How many people die every year in Manitoba from flu-related complications?
So far this flu season, the province has confirmed one influenza-related death, but Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said there's sometimes a delay in receiving reports of deaths and sharing them with the public.
The timing and intensity of the flu during any given season — defined as the period between November and May — can vary, a spokesperson for the province said in an email to CBC News.
There were 18 flu-related deaths reported during the 2018-19 flu season, but the number varies considerably year to year, according to figures from the province:
- 2013-14: 9
- 2014-15: 48
- 2015-16: 22
- 2016-17: 12
- 2017-18: 46
"We do see severe outcomes every year with the flu, unfortunately, and this year will be no exception," Roussin said.
There are cases of young people becoming ill and having severe symptoms, but it's not very common, he said.
What are common flu symptoms and how should they be treated?
Most people with the flu have a fever, cough and muscle aches and pains within the first one to four days after being exposed to the virus, Health Canada says.
Health authorities recommend you stay home when you get sick and avoid close contact with other people until you're well enough to get back to your regular day-to-day activities.
People infected with the flu virus can spread it to other people until approximately five days after they first show symptoms.
Rest, fluids and medication to reduce fever or aches can be used to treat symptoms.
Sometimes flu symptoms can be more serious and require medical attention.
When should you go to the hospital?
Health Canada says people with the flu should go to the hospital immediately if they develop any of these serious symptoms:
- Shortness of breath, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing.
- Chest pain.
- Bluish or grey skin.
- Bloody mucus or spit.
- Sudden dizziness or confusion.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- High fever lasting more than three days.
- Low blood pressure.
The flu can sometimes lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, worsening of chronic health conditions and even death.
Should Manitobans be worried?
People living in the province should be alert to the impacts of the flu, Roussin said.
"I think that the message is that the flu is concerning every year and so we unfortunately see severe outcomes every year."
Flu seasons are becoming longer, he said.
Another concern is that the influenza B strain is increasing at a higher rate than normal, according to the latest report from the province, which can cause serious problems.
"It's usually [influenza] A that we see circulating, but B can cause significant illness," Roussin said, particularly in those under 15.
People with serious diseases, those over 65, people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, children under five and pregnant women are at high risk of complications from the flu, the federal government says.
What's the best thing Manitobans can do to protect themselves from the flu?
The flu shot is No. 1, Roussin said.
"We always try to get the message out about the flu vaccine that the flu vaccine is safe, and it's the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu."
It's not too late to get the flu vaccine, although it's ideal to get it before the flu season is in full swing, he said.
"We're still encouraging Manitobans to get that flu shot. It's safe and that's the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu and these serious complications."
Health Canada recommends everyone over six months get the vaccine. It's especially important for people who are at high risk for complications and for those who are in close proximity to those at high risk.
Currently, only 22 per cent of Manitobans are vaccinated, according to government statistics.
With files from Sam Samson and Nick Frew