Colchester County, N.S.
Flu season is about to hit its peak, and while flu cases are spiking across the country, the case is not the same in Nova Scotia.
While confirmed cases of flu are on the rise in the province, everything seems to be on track for another average Nova Scotian flu season as we begin to enter the 6-8-week period of peak flu activity.
“The levels of illness we are seeing are still well within the normal range for what we see in a typical flu season,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia.
“The one thing that is different, which is happening across the country, is usually we see Influenza A first and then Influenza B, which usually occurs near the end of the season in March or April. What we are seeing now is a very early appearance of Influenza B, which is accounting for about a third of cases across the country.”
While it is showing up a little earlier than other years, Influenza B often produces a milder illness compared to strains of Influenza A, and is covered by this year’s flu vaccine.
Where the real problems begin is the mixing of both the Influenza A strain H3N2 and Influenza B. While the B strain is covered by flu vaccines, they aren’t so effective against the H3N2 strain.
“It’s something we don’t fully understand,” said Strang.
“We know historically, if you look over the last few decades, that in general the vaccine is only 33 per cent effectiveness against the H3 strains where it’s 60-70 per cent effective against the H1 Influenza A strain and Influenza B strains. Unfortunately, we don’t fully understand why that is.”
So far in Nova Scotia, there has been 72 lab confirmed cases of the flu, seven admissions to hospitals’ Intensive Care Unit, and at least one death related to the flu, but while those numbers aren’t great, they aren’t outside of a normal flu season for the province.
“It’s not surprising; Influenza is severe, and it is underappreciated,” said Strang.
“Every year we get severe illness, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and unfortunately deaths. Usually, cases of death are linked to elderly people who often have underlying chronic conditions. As you get older, your immune system starts to not function as well, but for people with other underlying conditions, often Influenza can tip the balance.”
As we move forward into the peak flu season, it still isn’t too late for people to get their flu shots, which is the best way to prevent the illness, said Strang.
“Along with vaccination, there are basic personal hygiene steps such as frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve or Kleenex,” he said.
“If you do have flu symptoms, such as fever, coughs, sore throat and muscle aches, then stay home. You’re going to get better faster and you won’t be spreading it around.”