Flu cases in New Brunswick up by 572 over same time last year
Unusually early start to season brings 738 cases so so far, including 207 hospitalizations and 13 deaths
New Brunswick has seen 572 more cases of the flu so far this season than the same time last year, with 160 more hospitalizations and eight more deaths, Department of Health statistics show.
But the season started much earlier than usual — the first week of October instead of the end of December, stressed department spokesman Bruce Macfarlane.
What we do know is, regardless of the efficacy, it's the best protection we have against influenza and the complications.- Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of health
That's the earliest start of influenza activity in New Brunswick on record, he said.
The province is also dealing with a double whammy of simultaneous strains this season, and a vaccine that's less effective than previous years.
Still, the province's acting chief medical officer of health is encouraging people to get the flu shot.
"What we do know is, regardless of the efficacy, it's the best protection we have against influenza and the complications," said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
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There have been 738 reported cases of the flu as of Jan. 27 — 537 Influenza A and 201 Influenza B.
That includes 207 hospitalizations and 13 deaths, said Russell.
"We're several weeks ahead of where we would have been last [season]," she said.
By comparison, there were 166 reported cases (164 Influenza A and two Influenza B), as of Jan. 28, 2017, including 47 hospitalizations and four deaths.
No region stands out as being hardest hit this season, said Russell, but the majority of the cases appear to involve people aged 65 and older, said Russell.
Other groups that are typically at higher risk of complications include those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, pregnant women and small children, she said.
"We are still encouraging people who are eligible for the vaccine to go get it and obviously people who are in contact with the high risk populations to get the vaccine also," said Russell.
"It's not too late."
Low effectiveness for dominant strain
The effectiveness of this season's flu shot has been extremely low across Canada, research has shown.
It was designed to offer protection against two A-type influenza viruses — H3N2 and H1N1 — and a B strain.
But it is preventing only 10 to 20 per cent of infections caused by the dominant H3N2 strain affecting Canadians.
By comparison, the same vaccine was used last season and found to be 42 per cent effective in preventing cases of H3N2.
Russell said it's not unusual for the efficacy of the vaccine to vary year to year.
"We always hope it's going to be the best possible, but we can't predict that," she said.
Russell contends this season's vaccine does offer "good protection" against the B strain, which New Brunswick is seeing more of than usual, and is worth getting.
The flu shot costs $25 but is provided for free to those considered to be at high risk and to people who come into contact with those individuals, such as caregivers and health care workers.
Russell also recommends regular hand washing to avoid catching the flu.
Those who do get it, should stay home to avoid spreading the virus, she said.
With files from Information Morning Moncton