Toronto

Hard to predict what kind of flu season Ontario will get this year, official says

A public health official says it's difficult to predict what kind of flu season Ontario will get this year, but she recommends that everyone get the flu shot to be prepared.

Toronto Public Health has opened free flu vaccine clinics in 4 locations across the city

Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, a medical director at Public Health Ontario, says it makes sense for Toronto residents to get the flu shot to prevent disease in themselves and to stop it from spreading to others. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

A public health official says it's difficult to predict what kind of flu season Ontario will get this year, but she recommends that everyone get the flu shot to be prepared.

"We do know that last year was quite a bad season. We had two strains kind of circulating at the same time and that's quite unusual," Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, medical director of communicable diseases, emergency preparedness and response at Public Health Ontario, said on Tuesday.

Warshawsky told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that officials look to the southern hemisphere to get a sense the impending severity of the flu season here — but what is happening there may not always be an accurate predictor. 

Even if the season turns out to be mild, she said it makes sense for Toronto residents to get the shot to prevent disease in themselves and to stop it from spreading to others. More importantly, Warshawsky says, the flu can cause complications for people who are older and younger, or who have pre-existing medical conditions.

"It's really the only vaccine that we have that you have to get annually. And I think that getting motivated each year to do that might be a challenge," she said. "But I think it's really important that people do get the flu vaccine each year because it can put us in bed for a few days."

According to the latest weekly influenza report from Health Canada, Influenza A is the most common influenza virus circulating in Canada. Currently, A(H1N1)pdm09 appears to be the "most common circulating subtype." (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

People who get influenza can be sick anywhere from a few days to 10 days, according to Toronto Public Health.

Symptoms include high fever, chills, sore throat, cough and sore muscles. Sufferers can also get headaches, lose their appetites and feel extremely tired. 

New high-dose vaccine available for seniors

"You can be sick for a number of days and it's a not pleasant illness. You can definitely miss school and miss work, but also you can definitely pass the infection onto to others. We do see people die from flu each year," Warshawsky said.

On Friday, Toronto Public Health opened free flu vaccine clinics at four locations.

The clinics will be open until Nov. 24.

Toronto Public Health said the flu shot is also available at doctors' offices and at more than 400 pharmacies in the city.

This year, a new high-dose vaccine is available specifically for people 65 or older, Toronto Public Health said. Seniors can obtain the vaccine at doctors' offices, long-term care homes, retirement homes and public health clinics.

Warshawsky told Metro Morning that people who were vaccinated last year were a third less likely to get influenza than those who didn't get vaccinated.

The Ontario government says last flu season more than 8,900 hospitalizations were due to the flu, and of that number, 619 people died. (CBC)

In general, however, she said the efficacy rate of the flu vaccine is about 50 per cent, which means people who are vaccinated are half as likely to get the flu as those who didn't get vaccinated.

Statistics Canada says only about a third of Canadians got vaccinated for influenza in 2015-16.

Influenza A most common flu virus in Canada

According to the latest weekly influenza report from Health Canada, Influenza A has been the most common influenza virus circulating in Canada. Currently, A(H1N1)pdm09 appears to be the "most common circulating subtype."

Toronto Public Health says flu can worsen existing medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease, develop into serious health problems such as pneumonia, and in rare cases, it can be fatal.

Those at higher risk of developing complications are people with chronic health conditions, nursing home residents, children six months to 5 years of age, and healthy pregnant women.

A 2018 Canadian study found that people are six times more likely to have a heart attack in the weeks after having the flu, and the risk could be higher for those 65 years and older.

The Ontario government says last flu season, more than 8,900 hospitalizations were due to the flu, and of that number, 619 people died.

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning