The latest FluWatch report confirms what experts have been warning could happen as an early rise in influenza cases spreads across Canada: we’re now officially in the midst of a flu epidemic.
“At the national level, influenza activity has crossed the seasonal threshold, indicating the start of an influenza epidemic. All surveillance indicators are increasing and most are above-expected levels typical of this time of year,” the report said.
The latest numbers from Canada’s national surveillance system, which tracks the spread of influenza and influenza-like illnesses, reports an 11.7% positivity rate in Canada in the week ending Nov. 5, 2022, an increase from 6.3 per cent reported in the two weeks before— thereby crossing the threshold of 5% positivity over that period and putting Canada into flu epidemic territory.
Across Canada, the percentage of hospital visits by patients with flu-like symptoms has been above the seasonal average, along with those reporting cough and fever as symptoms. The FluWatch report for the week ending Nov. 5, 2022, showed there were 78 hospitalizations cases related to Influenza.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), meanwhile, is reporting a rising number of cases in much of the country.
Emergency departments and hospitals have been battling the huge influx of patients, with many being treated in hallways. Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association, told CTV’s Your Morning last week, that “this is the first year since the pandemic began that we’re heading into a normal flu season.”
“Coupled with the COVID-19 virus still circulating and RSV, which is another common childhood virus that comes around this time of year, we’re seeing that increased strain, and the emergency departments and healthcare teams still dealing with burnout,” Zacharias added.
Children’s hospitals, in particular, have been strained by the new surge of young patients with viral infections. Half of the flu (51 per cent) illnesses have been reported in children aged two to four years and 10 to 16 years, according to the report. To date, between Aug. 28, 2022 and Nov. 5, 2022), 133 pediatric influenza-associated hospitalizations and 17 ICU admissions have been reported.
According to the U.S. CDC, most children catch a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) before they turn two and it is typically a mild illness. But in some cases, it can have severe outcomes, leading to difficulty in breathing, dehydration, and other serious illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Currently, Canada’s healthcare system is grappling to find medications for respiratory illnesses which have been on the rise. The overall activity of several viruses is above expected levels, according to the weekly respiratory virus report for the week ending Nov. 5, 2022. The data looks at the number of detections of only seasonal human coronaviruses and not the novel pandemic coronavirus.
The rise in flu cases is also straining U.S. hospitals.
An increased number of flu cases have hit the U.S. weeks earlier than usual. Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that about half of the country —25 states— reported high or very high respiratory illness activity. In an interview with ABC News, Dr. Frank Belmonte from the Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago, said, “This is our March of 2020. So, this is the pediatric version of the beginning of the pandemic.”