The 2017-18 season is turning out to be one of the deadliest flu seasons on record in Alberta in recent years.
As of Thursday, March 24, 86 Albertans had died of lab-confirmed influenza this season. That’s compared to 64 flu deaths last season and 62 deaths the season before that.
So far this year, 30 of the deaths have occurred in the Calgary region, while 20 deaths have also occurred in central Alberta. The north zone has recorded 10 deaths and the south zone has seen six deaths.
The Edmonton area has seen 20 deaths so far this flu season.
“We’re not at the end of it yet,” said Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, Alberta Health Services (AHS) medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone.
“Until now, we have seen more, particularly in the Edmonton zone, of lab-confirmed influenza A strain cases. We have seen the same amount of deaths in the Edmonton zone as last year.
“It was an influenza season. It happens every year … We do expect people to get sick and be hit by it and we saw that.”
AHS data shows 2,829 people have been hospitalized across Alberta this season with the flu. The majority of people who have come down with the flu have been hit with the Influenza A strain of the virus.
More than 1.2 million vaccines have been administered this season; that’s an immunization rate of about 27 per cent, according to AHS.
“There are lessons to be learned every year,” Hasselback said. “I think what’s a nice lesson from this year is we did see an increase in immunization uptake compared to previous years, but again, still didn’t reach what we were hoping to — which is 35 per cent of all Albertans — but we did see improvements across a lot of other sections, including our AHS employees.
“Flu is always bad. I don’t want to talk to this season compared to others. Flu is always bad … It does take its toll on society.”
The last time the province experienced more flu-related deaths was in 2014-15, when 103 people died of the virus. At the time, AHS said the flu vaccine was less effective than in previous years. Another reason for the spike in deaths was because the dominant strain that circulated that season targeted elderly people.
READ MORE: Alberta’s flu-related deaths surpass 100
Alberta has offered free universal influenza immunization to residents since 2009.
— With files from Global’s Emily Mertz