January 11, 2017 12:25 pm
Updated: January 11, 2017 12:31 pm

Got the flu over Christmas? So did thousands of Canadians, updated numbers show

It’s cold and flu season, but there are ways to keep your family healthy. Pharmacist and author Sherry Torkos explains.

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If you were bedridden and sick over Christmas and into New Year’s, turns out you were not alone: the latest update on flu activity shows influenza swept Canada with “greater numbers” of flu cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks.

In the final stretch of 2016, 1,948 people were sick with the flu. H3N2, as predicted, was the dominant strain of flu virus circulating, according to the latest Flu Watch update.

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It was a steep climb compared to the 692 cases reported in the week ending Dec. 17. There were 71 lab-confirmed influenza outbreaks with most of them happening in long-term care facilities.

READ MORE: What happens to your body when you get the flu, step by step

With that detail in mind, seniors accounted for the largest proportion of people ending up in hospital or dying from the flu.

Keep in mind, H3N2 is a virus that traditionally affects older patients more, leading to serious complications and higher rates of hospitalizations.

Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. were hit hardest by influenza — the report said these three provinces had “widespread activity” while Ontario also dealt with local activity.

The Flu Watch report was the last for 2016 data. By year end, 6,180 cases of the flu were reported since the flu season kicked off.

READ MORE: What Canadians should expect from the 2016-17 flu season

The past few years have been a tumultuous ride when it comes to influenza: in 2014, Canadian hospitals were battling enterovirus in children while monitoring for Ebola across the country.

By 2015, global health officials were rocked by a flu vaccine mismatch which meant that the shot was only 23 per cent effective against that season’s nasty H3N2 virus.

And last year, a combination of factors – a warm winter, a better-matched vaccine and round two of H3N2 – meant that the flu season didn’t pick up steam until well into February.

How to protect against the flu

The flu season got off to an early start this year and health officials anticipate another wave to make its way around February. There are some ways to try to avoid getting sick — for starters, proper hand hygiene is key.

READ MORE: Signs you’re too sick with the flu and should stay home

Wash your hands with soap and warm water for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. That’s about 30 seconds.

Fist bump instead of shake hands — this decreases the risk of spreading germs, too.

And keep your immune system strong by making sure you’re getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables.

READ MORE: 7 steps to surviving the cold and flu season without getting sick

As always, doctors are advising Canadians to get their flu shots to help protect themselves, and the people around them from catching influenza.

Kids as young as six months old can start getting the vaccine.

It’s also recommended for populations at risk of complications. These people who are more vulnerable include pregnant women, children under five years old, seniors and residents in long-term care or nursing homes.

READ MORE: Here’s what works and what doesn’t when you’re fighting a cough and cold

Those with underlying health problems, such as chronic diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer) should also make their way to a flu vaccination clinic.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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