Health officials urge Ottawans to get flu shot

After outbreaks at several schools and long-term care facilities, medical professionals agree that influenza has come early to the capital.
At least 40 confirmed cases reported in Ottawa 1:54

Ottawa Public Health is urging people to get the flu shot after the influenza virus hit the capital early this year.

Rosamund Lewis, associate medical officer with the public health agency, said there are 40 confirmed cases, including five outbreaks at long-term care facilities, schools and daycares in Ottawa.

"We often don’t have it peak until February or March and sometimes we don’t even have cases until the new year," Lewis said. "But now we’re seeing quite a few cases already."

The earlier the virus takes hold in a community, said Lewis, the more time it has to spread. Another reason to get a flu shot is that this year’s vaccine is a good match to combat the current strain making the rounds which, according to Lewis, is somewhat more severe.

"Some are just a little more virulent than others. Some cause a little bit more fever and respiratory and flu-like symptoms," Lewis said. "But the main concern is transmitting it to those who are not protected or who are more vulnerable for whatever reason."

Dr. Earl Brown, a virologist at the University of Ottawa, said modern travel habits combined with family gatherings and parties during Christmas increases opportunities for the virus to spread.  

"Canada seems to be following on the heels of the United States, whose flu season came even earlier," said Brown. "And now we’re sort of in full swing here, which is earlier by normal years."

Flu outbreaks in any one locale generally last six weeks, Brown said, but "if Toronto started faster than the rest of us, we’re going to share it out."

In addition to getting the flu shot, hand hygiene should be maintained as well as avoiding close contact with those who are showing symptoms of infection.

"Generally a metre to two metres is the closeness, so if you’re within that zone, you’re in the danger zone," cautioned Brown. "And if you start touching people … then you’re going to get infected."