'Exceptionally' light flu season giving COVID-weary N.B. a break
Same measures that protect against COVID-19 are keeping a lid on the flu, experts say
New Brunswick is heading into peak flu season, but the numbers so far suggest the peak might be lower than usual this year.
Earlier this fall, many health experts feared that a fall 'second wave' of COVID-19 would not only be worse than the first wave, but that it would hit just as seasonal flu infections started to spread and overwhelm hospitals.
Flu season typically begins to crest in the second and third weeks of November and peaks around mid-February, according to Public Health.
But while COVID-19 cases have picked up across the country, flu cases so far appear to be unusually and mercifully low.
In its weekly influenza watch reports, Health Canada noted on Dec. 5 that all indicators of influenza remain "exceptionally low" for this time of year.
It noted there have been two influenza-like illness outbreaks reported in schools and daycares, but no laboratory-confirmed outbreaks and "no evidence of community circulation of influenza."
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New Brunswick is mirroring that picture so far.
In its most recent weekly flu reports, for the week ending Nov. 28, Public Health said there had been no cases, outbreaks or hospitalizations reported since the beginning of the season.
For comparison, during the same week in 2019, Public Health said three cases were reported. Since the beginning of the season, it said, there had been a total of 13 cases reported, one outbreak in a nursing home, five hospitalizations and no deaths.
During the same week in 2018, there were 20 positive influenza cases reported and three hospitalizations. There had been a total of 32 cases, six hospitalizations and three outbreaks in schools reported since the beginning of the season.
Soap, masks, distancing helping to keep flu at bay
Experts say the same preventive weapons being used in the fight against COVID-19 are helping to keep the flu at bay, too.
This includes frequent handwashing, wearing masks, keeping a distance of two metres from others, keeping contact numbers low and seeking health-care advice and testing if symptoms occur.
Heightened awareness of COVID-19 is also believed to have driven more people to get the flu shot this year.
A month ago, New Brunswick pharmacies saw a surge in demand for the flu vaccine. Most were running low on supply and others had completely run out — something that doesn't usually happen this early in the season, the head of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association said in an interview.
Last week, Public Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane confirmed that an additional 11,000 doses of the influenza vaccine had arrived in New Brunswick and are being distributed to pharmacies this week to be administered, free of charge.
This year especially, "people appreciate that they need to be well, they don't want to get symptoms of flu and confuse them with COVID-19," New Brunswick Pharmacists' Assocation executive director Jake Reid said. "And we want to keep as many people out of hospital in case we do have a re-emergence of the pandemic."