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

UBC Sports Hall of Famer Carrie (Watson) Watts (far right, front row) helped lead the UBC Thunderbirds to the 2004 national championship, their first since 1974. She served as assistant coach a few years after graduation. (Photo/UBC)
Agassiz-born basketball star inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame

Carrie (Watson) Watts helped lead the team to their first championship in decades

Dr. Bonnie Henry B.C.’s provincial health officer, updates the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
UPDATED: South Mission added to list of high-transmission COVID zones

Anyone 30 and over in the area can now register for a vaccine

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Architectural drawings of the apartment on Barker Court presented at Mission council.
Once-rejected development moves forward, after council demands better affordability terms

1st application rejected in March because low rates only offered for 5 years

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read