TRURO, N.S. – As the flu season heads towards the end of its peak, influenza cases are still increasing across the province.
Confirmed flu cases have doubled compared to previous years, but health officials say this year is still within what is considered average, but may be a bit abnormal from other flu seasons.
“In terms of the level of severity, we are still within range of what’s normal, but we are at the high end of that range,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical health officer for Nova Scotia.
As of March 3, there were 485 confirmed flu cases across the province with a total of 30 deaths, a rise from last year’s 257 cases and 10 deaths, and 2016’s 90 cases and three deaths around the same time.
While the increased numbers aren’t overly concerning to health officials, Strang said it could be due to an unusual mix of flu strains.
“What we are seeing different this year is a mix of influenza A and B at the same time,” he said.
“Usually we get influenza A first and then towards the end of the flu season we get B. This year, we're getting both together. Historically, if you look back at seasons where Influenza A has played a major role, those are almost always more severe seasons. The H3N2 strain is much more severe than the B strain, especially in seniors.”
The Influenza A H3N2 strain is also mostly immune to this year’s flu vaccine and has accounted for roughly two-thirds of confirmed cases this season so far.
The higher numbers of this year’s flu season might not be related to a larger spreading of the flu, but could be due to an increase in ER visits.
“There is a bit of an overlap of A and B occurring at the same time, but I think what is actually happening is more people are going for testing when they aren’t feeling good,” said Lori McCracken, manager of Health Protection for the Northern Zone.
“Obviously there is no hard data to that, but often this can be the situation during flu season. Some people who get flu symptoms will stay home to heal, but there are others who feel sick enough to actually go in and get tested.”
Even though flu numbers are higher than previous years across the board, the Northern Zone of Nova Scotia, which includes Colchester, Cumberland and parts of Inverness county among others, has been the least affected by influenza, with only 32 confirmed cases so far.
Neglecting precautions could contribute to the higher numbers as well, as most people disregard the proper procedure to prevent flu spread such as hand washing, getting vaccines or staying home when sick.
“We haven’t had any yet, but other parts of the country have seen young children dying from the flu,” he said.
“To me, that’s an indicator that we’re somewhat complacent and underestimate the impact the flu has every year. The flu creates severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths every year, and it just seems we don’t pay too much attention to it.”