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Health Unit: Recent positive influenza cases 'uncommon' for this time of year

Confirmed local influenza cases dropped from 142 in 2019-20 to one in 2020-21
2021 04 07 North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit (Campaigne) 2
The Health Unit says it has been a later flu season, a trend seen across Canada.

Although the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit has reported historically low numbers of cases of influenza among local residents in recent years, this season's confirmed cases are notable because of where their detection fell on the calendar.

The Health Unit says while the district continues to experience a lower number of total confirmed cases, this year, people are still testing positive for influenza well into spring, which is "uncommon."

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports, "Since the beginning of April, detections of influenza have sharply increased. All indicators of influenza activity have increased in recent weeks. Influenza activity is now approaching seasonal thresholds."

In the local 2019–20 influenza season (Sept. 1, 2019 – August 31, 2020), 142 confirmed cases of influenza were identified among residents in North Bay Parry Sound. In the 2020–21 influenza season, falling entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, one confirmed case of Influenza B was identified locally. With a few months to go in the 2021–22 influenza season, the Health Unit has recorded seven confirmed cases of Influenza A as of April 30.

The Health Unit notes the above cases confirmed by laboratory testing listed represent only a portion of the actual number of cases occurring within the district but the drop-off over the last two seasons is documented. 

See related: Flu season in Canada 'exceptionally low' so far, public health says (November 2020)

The pandemic has likely skewed influenza results for various reasons, including increased hygiene and public health awareness, including physical distancing and hand washing. During periods in which movement was restricted or locked down and stay-at-home orders were in place, fewer likely ventured out to get tested when unwell. The lack of international travel also played a role, experts say. 

See also: The flu season that never was: COVID-19 pandemic keeps other viruses at bay

According to Public Health Ontario, "The influenza virus or 'flu' is a respiratory virus that circulates in Ontario, most frequently in the fall and winter. Influenza spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing or having face-to-face contact. It can cause mild to severe respiratory disease. While anyone can get influenza, the very young, the elderly and people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk of complications. The best way to prevent infection is to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine every year."

Public Health Sudbury & Districts (PHSD) has also witnessed a later flu season.

“This year is unusual in that we are seeing a very late start to the influenza season, which, in Canada, typically runs from November to April," says Justeen Mansourian, a public health nurse with PHSD. Our first cases are usually reported in December or January with the season wrapping up in March or April. The late-season influenza trend is occurring across Canada, with influenza activity spiking in April and approaching seasonal levels in some parts of the country.” 

Both our local and neighbouring health units offer a reminder that the influenza vaccine is offered free of charge in Ontario for anyone aged six months of age or older and remains the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from influenza. The vaccine is particularly recommended for people with medical conditions who are at risk of developing complications from an influenza infection. Check with your health provider or pharmacy for flu shot availability.

See: One of the largest flu immunization campaigns in the province’s history launched

With COVID-19 continuing to circulate in the community, and with some common symptoms of other respiratory illnesses, including influenza, it can be difficult to know what virus you have.

Regardless of the cause of the infection, the same protective measures still apply to help prevent becoming sick with or spreading influenza and other viruses:

  • Stay home
  • Take the Ministry of Health COVID-19 self-assessment and follow the recommendations provided as this relates to self-isolation and seeking testing for COVID-19 (if eligible)
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 15 seconds
  • Wear a mask when in close contact with others
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and discard used tissues immediately in the garbage
  • Avoid contact with vulnerable persons