Flu bug hitting Maritimers hard and early as vaccinations are lower
Published Friday, January 4, 2019 9:53PM AST
The flu is taking hold in the Maritimes as the new year begins.
It’s worst in New Brunswick, where the number of confirmed cases is already double what it was at this time last year and there have been three deaths.
What isn't increasing is the number of people getting a flu shot, despite the reappearance of a once fearsome flu strain.
No time is a good time to get sick and over the holidays it feels even worse.
This year, flu season really took off .
“It started earlier,” said New Brunswick chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell. “So, the numbers that we're seeing right now we would normally see at the end of January.”
In New Brunswick, the number of cases are double what they were this time last year.
Between august and the end of December, there were 579 lab confirmed cases, 71 hospitalizations and three deaths.
The numbers are much lower in the rest of the Maritimes.
In Nova Scotia, there are 32 confirmed cases, 20 hospitalizations and no deaths
On Prince Edward Island, there have been 20 cases, five hospitalizations and no deaths.
The dominant strain is H1N1, if that sounds familiar, it’s because 10 years ago, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic after hundreds of thousands of deaths were associated with this virus.
Before that, the strain hadn't been seen in decades, which meant there was less immunity.
And now, a decade later, public health officials say it shouldn't worry people.
“H1N1 appeared for the first time in a long time back in 2009, but it's been part of our regular flu season since then,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
So, adults have built up a bit of immunity, but children haven’t.
“The number of hospitalizations, most of them are under the age of 65, and about 18 per cent of them are children 10 years or younger,” Russell said.
But even if you were immunized in 2009, that doesn't mean you shouldn't get this year's flu shot.
“It looks like this year it's definitely worthwhile to get the flu vaccine,” said Curtis Chafe, a pharmacist, and chair of the board for the Pharmacy Association Of Nova Scotia.
All the indicators point to this year's vaccination as being a good match. But in order to get maximum benefit, 80 percent of the population should get the shot.
Right now less than 50 per cent of Nova Scotians have done that.
“It seems this year that it's hitting younger kids especially hard, as well as obviously the elderly,” Chafe said. “But, really, what we need to do is to get everybody vaccinated as much as we can to help protect everybody else.”
And one more thing, before we wash our hands of the flu: make sure yours are clean, said Strang, who emphasized the importance of a thorough and frequent hand-washing.
“If you are coughing or sneezing, doing it in your sleeve,” Strang said. “If you do have flu-like symptoms, stay home.”
You're especially vulnerable if you have a chronic health condition already.
Health Canada doesn't have the latest 2018 numbers up yet, but as of Dec. 15, 22 people have died from the flu nation-wide.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.