Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia flu-related deaths jump this season

Flu-related deaths have jumped this year in Nova Scotia as the province tests more often for the virus that has targeted older people this season.

Province says it's testing more often for strain targeting older people

There have been 27 flu-related deaths this in Nova Scotia. (Shutterstock)

Flu-related deaths have jumped this year in Nova Scotia as the province tests more often for the virus that is targeting older people this season.

As of last week, the Department of Health and Wellness is reporting 27 influenza-related deaths this season, compared with just eight at this time last year.  

The numbers, however, don't tell the whole story, says Frank Atherton, Nova Scotia's deputy chief medical officer of health. One reason for the increase is the province is testing more for the flu this year.

In addition, the strain of flu making the rounds is H3N2, which predominantly affects older people. Recent years have seen H1N1, which mainly affects children and young adults, Atherton says.

"We've been seeing a lot of outbreaks in long term care facilities," Atherton says. "When we have those outbreaks we do test the residents who are are affected with respiratory symptoms."

"We're diagnosing a lot more influenza this year and seeing influenza in people, elderly people particularly, who have died."
Dr. Frank Atherton, the province's deputy chief medical officer of health, says the province is testing more often for the flu this year. (CBC)

Of the deaths where influenza was present, 24 were in individuals 65 years and older. In many cases there are underlying health conditions, the province says.

It's been fairly normal flu season for H3N2, but since the strain hasn't been around in awhile it is having some impact, Atherton says.

"For the elderly, some of their immunity has waned and so we are seeing a lot of flu among the elderly population."

A less effective flu vaccine has also made this season more difficult.

Every year the World Health Organization gives direction about what flu strains are likely on their way. In any given year the vaccine effectiveness ranges from 30 to 60 per cent. This year it was at the lower end of that range, Atherton says.

So is flu season almost over? Maybe.

Atherton says the season varies from year to year. It usually starts around Christmastime and winds down late February or early March.

Atherton admits the season seems to be lingering this year.

"That may well be a factor of the cold weather," he says. "We have to remember that it's when people congregate indoors that's what allows the viruses to transmit from person to person very easily."

Usually when spring weather arrives we see flu season wane, he says.

"Our hope would be that we would be seeing that quite soon."

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