Risk of seasonal influenza still exists

Eight people have died in Saskatchewan due to the flu this season and three of the deaths involved children in their pre-school years

Kenneth Brown
of The Crossroads

The risk of contracting the influenza virus still exists, and people could be immunized to decrease their risk of getting sick as the flu season winds down.

The ministry of health publishes weekly influenza surveillance reports and the most recent report available on Wednesday is for the week ending on Jan. 19. The statistics show a large decrease in confirmed cases since the middle to end of December.

According to health officials, a total of eight people have died in Saskatchewan due to seasonal influenza this season and three of the deaths involved children in their pre-school years. The strains circulating this flu season include the H1N1 virus and H1N1 is known to have a greater impact on young children.

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The recent surveillance report states that from Sept. 1 to Jan. 19, there were 2,080 lab-confirmed cases of influenza. Of the 2,080 cases, only one case had involved a Type B influenza strain. Influenza has A and B strains and the Type A strains tend to be more predominant earlier in the season. The H1N1 virus is a Type A strain.

Statistics show the flu season has peaked with respect to lab-confirmed cases. There was a steady increase in confirmed cases after the week ending on Nov. 3 and there were 36 cases in the week. The number of new confirmed cases increased weekly until it peaked the week ending Dec. 15 with 358 cases.

Since the peak week with 358 cases, the number of confirmed cases has decreased to 324, 207, 107, 50 and 31 in the weeks to follow. The 31 confirmed cases in the week ending on Jan. 19 was the lowest number during any week since 27 confirmed cases in the week ending on Nov. 3.

The age breakdown for the 2,080 confirmed cases is 564 children under five years old, 474 people from five to 19 years old, 833 people from 20 to 64 years old and 2017 people 65 or older. The H1N1 virus affects working-aged adults.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the chief medical health officer for Saskatchewan, spoke to the media earlier in January and he said in addition to the deaths, others have been admitted to hospital during the current flu season. A total of 21 people have been admitted to hospital, the report shows.

He said in the past 10 years, there have been four H1N1 seasons and six H3N2 seasons. There are more outbreaks in long-term care (LTC) facilities in H3N2 seasons, he said. The 2017-18 flu season was an H3N2 season and there were 84 outbreaks in LTC facilities across Saskatchewan, but there have only been 20 outbreaks this season.

“This is turning out to be a very typical H1N1 season,” Shahab said, recognizing that there have been more hospitalizations and deaths among pre-school children and working-aged adults than in years when H3N2 is the predominant strain.

The province ordered more than 360,000 doses of vaccine for this flu season and Shahab said about 300,000 people have been vaccinated. The uptake is 10 per cent higher than last season and 25 per cent higher than two seasons ago. The flu shot is the best line of defence, he said.

He noted that there is a minimum of more than 30,000 doses still available. He said vaccine was shipped to more than 300 pharmacies, but people are encouraged to contact their closest public health office if they would still like to be vaccinated.

“At the moment, there are sufficient supplies in Saskatchewan for anyone who wants to get the flu vaccine,” Shahab said, recognizing that it is particularly important for any children nine years old and under, especially children who are six months to five years old, to be vaccinated during an H1N1 season.

He said it is important for pregnant women to get a shot even if they have only become pregnant during a flu season, and children that reach six months old during a season should also get vaccinated. The vaccine is available until March 31.

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