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HomeWorld NewsHealthNew Brunwick braces for flu season

New Brunwick braces for flu season

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New Brunswickers should prepare themselves for a potentially worse flu season this fall, health officials advise.

That includes getting the flu shot, which is expected to be available within the coming weeks.

“We know that there [has] been little influenza over the past two seasons, but we can expect more flu this year,” said Dr. Arifur Rahman, the province’s acting deputy chief medical officer of health.

With fewer people opting to get a flu vaccine over the past two years because of a lull in influenza cases, and the end last spring of COVID-19 protective measures, such as masking and physical distancing, more people are at a heightened risk of getting the flu, according to experts.

Australia’s 2022 influenza season also offers some clues of what could be in store in New Brunswick. The flu hits Australia first and infections there were higher than the five-year average — with infections notably spiking, then dropping, earlier than usual.

Australia’s flu surge also coincided with the country’s first big COVID-19 surge of the pandemic, dubbed a “twindemic.”

The potential for such a dual surge could put even more pressure on New Brunswick hospitals, which are already struggling with staffing shortages.

400 cases reported over summer

New Brunswick has already seen an unusual resurgence of the flu, with about 400 cases documented over the summer.

Normally, the flu season really starts to “take off” in January and “peters out” once the warmer weather begins, Dr. Yves Léger, the acting deputy chief medical officer of health, told CBC News in May.

At that time, a total of 40 cases had been documented during the season, which began Aug. 29, 2021.

As of Aug. 27, the end of the 2021-22 season, the number of reported cases jumped to 442 — 179 influenza A(H3), 262 influenza A (unsubtyped) and one influenza B, the latest statistics released by Public Health show.

Ninety-two people were hospitalized during the season and five died.

In 2020-21, only one flu case was reported across New Brunswick, with no hospitalizations and no deaths.

By comparison, in 2019-20, at the beginning of the pandemic, there were 2,351 cases provincewide. And in 2018-19, pre-pandemic, 3,008.

The red line illustrates the per cent of positive flu tests in New Brunswick between Aug. 29, 2021 and Aug. 27, 2022, while the blue line illustrates the per cent of positive flu tests in previous non-pandemic seasons. (Government of New Brunswick)

The influenza-like consultation rate was “higher than expected” during the final two weeks of the 2021-22 season, at 64.9 per 1,000 visits and 46.5 per 1,000 visits respectively, according to the province’s latest influenza report.

Five influenza outbreaks have been reported in nursing homes since the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the report states.

The numbers are all likely underreported, officials have said. Although influenza is a reportable disease in New Brunswick, not everyone who gets sick would necessarily go to the doctor and get tested.

“As we know, seasonal influenza can have serious health impacts, said Rahman. “So this is a good time now for a good reminder that vaccination for influenza is available,” he said.

“All New Brunswickers should get a flu vaccine to protect themselves, and the people … surrounding them.”

Anyone aged six months and older is eligible for the flu shot.

The 2022-23 seasonal influenza vaccine campaign will be offered through primary care providers, Public Health nurses, New Brunswick extramural program health professionals and pharmacists.

It can take up to two weeks before the vaccine provides protection against the flu.

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