The worst of the flu season may very well be behind us. According to the latest statistics, the influenza epidemic was at its peak in the Montreal region between Dec. 25, 2016 and Jan, 7, 2017.
But hospital emergency rooms across the city are still bursting at the seams and doctors are encouraging patients to get vaccinated.
“It’s not too late,” Montreal Public Health officer Dr. Renée Paré said. “You can still contact your (local clinic) or ask your family doctor or even your pharmacist to get the flu shot.”
At noon on Wednesday, the Jewish General Hospital was at double stretcher capacity, meaning it had twice the number of patients than it can normally handle, on stretchers. It was a similar story at the Lakeshore General and Royal Victoria hospitals.
“In certain types of patients with underlying medical conditions these viruses can trigger more complex more deadly outcomes,” Jewish General Hospital Microbiologist Dr. Karl Weiss said.
There are currently 20 influenza outbreaks in Montreal and while the number of cases has been increasing steadily since early January, doctors aren’t calling it alarming.
“Maybe we’ve reached a plateau,” said Weiss.
While the peak of the epidemic has passed in western Quebec, public health officials note that it has migrated and currently plaguing some eastern parts of the province.
Microbiologists have managed to identify this season’s dominant strain is H3N2. But other viruses are still wreaking havoc and causing hospitalizations.
“There is a virus called RSV and there are other respiratory viruses that can also bring you to the emergency room,” said Weiss.
Doctors are pleading with patients to steer clear from the ER if they aren’t experiencing serious symptoms. And the best advice according to public health officials is to stay away from others when you’re sick in order to avoid transmitting the virus.
“It wouldn’t be the time to go a long-term care facility,” said Paré. “If you have the flu avoid giving it to people who are vulnerable like old people or young children, people who are already sick.”
Unlike the 2014-2015 flu season, the dominant flu strain is included in this year’s vaccine. The downside is that it takes roughly two weeks for the immunization to kick in.