Experts say the easing of public health restrictions that were meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 has led to an increase in cases of another virus.
Since the beginning of April, Canada has seen a sharp increase in flu cases, something we don’t usually see in the spring. According to a recent Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) report, there were 1,580 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza between May 22 and May 28.
That’s down from the peak of 2,121 flu cases seen during the week of May 8-14, but the PHAC warns that the number of flu cases “remains above the pandemic threshold.”
Last year, between May 23 and June 19 there was one laboratory-confirmed case of influenza. Prior to the pandemic, a five-week period in May and June 2019 saw 864 laboratory-confirmed cases, averaging 172.8 cases per week.
Toronto emergency room physician Dr. Lisa Salamon says she’s also noticed more patients with the flu in her practice, especially children.
“I see flu a lot in kids,” she told CTV Your Morning on Tuesday. “A lot of kids come through the emergency department with many upper respiratory infections and fevers that last a few days.”
Influenza-like illnesses accounted for 1.6 percent of hospital visits in the latest report. This flu season saw a total of 438 flu-related hospitalizations, including 225 children aged 16 or younger. The Primary Health Care Center (PHAC) says that hospitalizations associated with influenza among children “remain above typical levels for this time of year”.
Salamone says much of this trend can be attributed to the lifting of regional mask mandates in schools and other indoor settings that occurred between February and May.
“We don’t have that much flu at this time of year, but I really think it lifted the mask,” she said. “The fact that it’s being traded here now, it’s no surprise. Also, people are congregating more”
Researchers have found that pandemic measures, which were put in place with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19, have helped stop cases of influenza. Last winter, usually at the height of flu season, the number of lab-confirmed weekly flu cases peaked at 44, according to PHAC.
Dr Theresa Tam, chief medical officer of health, cited the lifting of public health restrictions as a driving force for the increase in flu cases, but said the Primary Health Care Center remains “cautiously optimistic that the warmer months will give us some relief from higher rates of transmission.”
“When most public health measures for the population such as lockdowns and capacity limits were removed, we saw higher transmission rates of COVID-19 and are now seeing flu activity increase to the seasonal limit, although the opposite trend is expected at this time of year,” she told reporters during last month’s COVID briefing. -19.
According to PHAC’s annual telephone survey of influenza vaccine coverage in Canada, the vaccination rate among adults ages 18 to 74 is 30 percent for the 2021-2022 flu season and 71 percent among seniors 65 and older. Salmon said that decreased immunity from the flu vaccine may be another factor driving the increase in cases.
“For those who become infected in the fall, it only lasts so long,” she said.
Although it may not be mandatory to do so, Tam said Canadians should continue to practice “personal protection habits” such as hiding in high-risk places in order to limit the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza.
“Masks continue to be an important layer of protection for ourselves while also helping to protect our loved ones,” she said.
Salamon said this also underscores the need to stay home if you’re feeling sick, something fewer people are doing now that COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed.
“We’ve done a really good job of staying home if we’ve been sick for two years,” she said. “Now people are forgetting those simple principles.” “We always see people getting colds all year round. We just have to remember that if we have symptoms, regardless of whether it’s COVID-19 or not, we have to stay home.”