Nova Scotia

Flu season has been stopped in its tracks this winter

The Public Health Agency of Canada's latest flu report says the flu numbers up to early January fall below the threshold to declare the start of the 2020-2021 flu season.

Measures meant to minimize the spread of COVID-19 appear to have had a similar effect on influenza

There have been no cases of the flu reported in Nova Scotia so far this year, compared to 442 cases of the flu last season. (Getty Images)

This time of year would normally be the height of flu season in Nova Scotia, but so far there have been no reported cases in the province. 

Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis confirmed the absence of influenza cases to CBC News and said there were 442 cases last season.

Nova Scotia's experience is reflected in national influenza figures. A Jan. 15 report from Public Health Agency of Canada said there haven't been enough influenza cases to even declare the start of the 2020-2021 season in Canada.

MacInnis said in an email that public health protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19 have had a similar effect on influenza in the province.

"Masking, physical distancing and good hand hygiene are all measures that can not only reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, but other viruses such as influenza," she said.

Statistics for the past six years show that by this time of year there would normally be an average of 14,811 influenza detections reported in Canada. So far this season there have been just 51 influenza cases reported.

Twenty-seven of the 51 influenza detections reported to date this season are connected to people who received an attenuated influenza vaccine and do not represent community circulation of the flu virus.

The agency's Flu Watch report for Jan. 3-9 said the percentage of positive tests for influenza in Week 1 of 2021 was 0 per cent, compared to 23.4 per cent during the past six seasons. There have been no laboratory confirmed outbreaks in Canada this season.

The low circulation of the seasonal flu has meant that the National Microbiology Laboratory has been unable to test for influenza strain characterizations or antiviral resistance.

Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said last fall that adhering to COVID-19 protocols would help reduce the spread of influenza. (CBC)

MacInnis said the province ordered more doses of the flu vaccine this year than ever before, but said many providers ran low because of demand.

She said the province secured more influenza vaccine in December and has distributed these additional doses to providers.

MacInnis said if someone still wants the vaccine and it is not available at their usual provider they may need to call around.

Some experts predicted flu cases would tumble in the Northern Hemisphere based on Australia's experience with plummeting flu figures after it introduced COVID-19 measures. Australia's flu season coincides with Canada's summer.

In October, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said it's possible to avoid a flu season.

"We would expect and hope that as long as we all stick with the COVID protocols it'll have a significant positive impact on influenza as well," he said.

"But that doesn't diminish the importance at all of having as many Nova Scotians as possible add another layer and the best way to protect influenza and that is getting a flu vaccine."

In a normal year, the Public Health Agency of Canada said influenza causes 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in the country.