January 11, 2018 3:01 pm
Updated: January 12, 2018 12:57 pm

The flu season in Canada is getting pretty nasty; here is everything you need to know

The flu season is here and hospital emergency rooms across the country are inundated with sick patients. As Mike Drolet reports, the doctors say they can't keep up.

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The flu season in Canada is shaping up to be a nasty one as emergency rooms across the country become overcrowded with sick patients. And the peak of the season hasn’t even arrived yet.

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The predominant strain that is circulating is a “severe one,” according to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at University Health Network in Toronto. It’s also possible the flu vaccine may have limited effectiveness against it, he added.

READ MORE: Here’s why Canada may be in for a miserable 2017-18 flu season

“It could be a severe year. There is data coming out of Australia, which also has this strain, that says part of the vaccine may have not been as effective at protecting against the flu as we would want,” he said.

“And what happens in Australia’s flu season usually migrates to us.”

What strains are making people sick this year?

There are two primary flu strains that are making people sick.

The dominant influenza A strain is H3N2 and it is the “big” one to worry about, Bogoch said.

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

“The predominant H3N2 strain has a history that shows it causes more cases of the flu and more deaths,” he said.

Influenza B is the other strain — but it’s not as nasty. This year’s B strain, known as B/Yamagata, began circulating in the fall, much earlier than usual and is “substantially greater this season” compared to others, according to the Canadian Public Health Agency.

READ MORE: 6 steps to kill the germs on your hands

Although it’s still too early to know how bad this flu season could get, Bogoch said there is a small indication that there could be more cases than last year.

To date, there have been 34 deaths in Canada related to influenza.

When does flu season peak?

We are currently in the middle of the influenza season. Bogoch said it should peak in the middle of January and then decline in late February and early March.

WATCH: Food to fight the cold and flu season

Is this year’s flu shot working?

Each year, the flu vaccine contains protection against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B.

It’s still too early to know how effective the vaccine will be in Canada, but there is an indication it could be weak.

READ MORE: First known cases of canine influenza confirmed in Canada

Bogoch said this is because regions in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Australia and Hong Kong, only saw around 10 per cent effectiveness against H3N2.

What happens in the Southern Hemisphere usually lays the groundwork for predicting which viruses are out there by the time they make their way north.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we got,” he said.

WATCH: Flu shot could be only 10% effective against predominant strain

Why you should still get the flu shot

Bogoch said there are multiple strains of the flu going around. So if the vaccine does not work on one strain, it could work on another.

And even if the vaccine is a mismatch, those who get the flu shot typically end up with milder symptoms if they get the flu. It also helps provide protection for your family and co-workers, especially if you have young kids or elderly people living with you.

READ MORE: Respiratory diseases from seasonal flu on the rise worldwide – here’s where Canada stands

It’s still not too late to get the flu shot as there are around eight to 10 weeks left in the season.

How does the flu work?

The flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus and is not the same as a cold (which is caused by a different virus).

When the influenza virus gets into the body it heads into the respiratory tract, binds to the surface of cells and starts replicating. The virus then takes over the function of the cell.

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

This causes the respiratory system to swell and become inflamed. The virus then enters the bloodstream and the first symptoms begin to appear, such as coughing, fever, body aches and sneezing. The replication process continues for up to several days until the body’s immune system fights off the virus.

How to protect yourself

There are three main ways to protect yourself and others from getting the flu, according to Bogoch.

  1. Get the flu shot
  2. Wash your hands
  3. Stay home if you’re sick

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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