A needle and syringe used to administer the flu shot in shown in Virgil, Ont., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

A needle and syringe used to administer the flu shot in shown in Virgil, Ont., Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Flu season in Canada ‘exceptionally low’ so far, public health says

COVID-19 is proving to be worse this fall, with more than 1,400 people in hospital

At this point during last year’s flu season, Canada had already recorded 711 positive cases of influenza.

So far this year, there have been just 17.

“Influenza is way behind the eight ball here,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of infectious disease in the department of medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Many health experts feared that a fall wave of COVID-19 would not only be worse than the first wave in the spring, but it would come just as seasonal flu infections started to spread, making it impossible for hospitals to keep up.

COVID-19 is proving to be worse this fall, with more than 1,400 people in hospital, about one-fifth of them in critical care. The flu, however, is not.

In the first week of November, not one province or territory reported a single patient hospitalized with the flu, compared with 60 during the same week a year ago.

In 2019, provinces reported 147 lab-confirmed cases of flu the first week of November. This year, they reported four.

This despite testing more than twice as many people for flu than usual — almost 10,000 tests done in the first week of November, compared to a six-year average of about 4,500.

“The percentage of laboratory tests positive for influenza has remained at exceptionally low levels,” says the Public Health Agency of Canada’s weekly flu watch report.

Signs from the Southern Hemisphere, which gets hit with flu season first, were reason to hope the “twindemic” wasn’t going to happen here.

READ MORE: Flu shot demand up and getting more supply won’t be easy, feds say

New Zealand said its flu infections were down 99.8 per cent and in Australia lab-confirmed cases of flu were down 93 per cent. In 2019, more than 800 Australians died of the flu. In 2020, that number to date is 36.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported only one case of the flu out of about 4,000 random surveillance tests performed. Most years the program detects about 1,000 cases.

While Canada’s flu season is still in the early days — it typically starts in late August and dies out in April — Evans said all the signs here suggest Canada will report similar numbers in the end.

He said most of the credit goes to the public health measures taken to slow COVID-19, the hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as the dramatic drop in international travel.

Evans said even if travellers from abroad are getting in, they’re less likely to bring the flu with them because influenza is so low elsewhere as well.

Canada is also pushing the flu vaccine harder than ever, and Canadians are listening. Although Canadian provinces ordered almost 25 per cent more flu shots than last year, many can’t keep up with demand.

Alberta has already vaccinated 1.14 million people, less than a month after the vaccine became available there. In 2019, the province vaccinated 1.4 million total.

Evans said a more-vaccinated population fighting back a virus that is less prevalent, is going to make this flu season a non-event.

“It’s the perfect storm not to have a very good influenza season,” he said.

Not only will that help hospitals cope with COVID-19, it means fewer Canadians are going to die.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusflu season

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A sign is seen this past summer outside Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Yunesit’in First Nation completes second round of vaccinations

A total of 26 people have since recovered from COVID-19 after having tested positive

A 100 Mile RCMP officer stands watch at the intersction of Highway 97 and Horse Lake Road. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Volunteers, police search Highway 97 for articles related to high-speed chase

Search will stretch from Canco Gas Station in Lac La Hache to 150 Mile House.

An aerial photograph captures snowmobile tracks in the Cameron Ridge area earlier this year, which is closed to snowmobilers. The closures are in place to protect sensitive caribou herds. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Snowmobilers fined for operating in closed caribou habitat near Likely, B.C.

The investigation revealed they had spent several hours in the closure leaving extensive tracks

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read