As Londoners gear up for yet another flu season, a report going before the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s (MLHU) Board of Health this week describes the flu season the region experienced last winter as “one of the most substantial in recent years,” due to a startling spike in cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
In total, 870 lab-confirmed cases of influenza were reported in Middlesex and London between October 2017 and May 2018, nearly double the cases reported in 2016-17, according to the report, made public ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
In addition, 44 influenza-related deaths and 464 influenza-related hospitalizations were reported to the health unit over the season — increases of 28 and 206, respectively, compared to 2016-17.
“Middlesex-London cases ranged in age from six weeks to 102 years old,” said the report. “Those aged 65 years and over accounted for 60 per cent of all cases, and 70 per cent of hospitalizations.”
Of the 44 deaths reported to the health unit, all were of people aged 50 and over, the report said.
According to the health unit, influenza activity peaked in late December 2017 and January 2018, and saw both influenza A and B strains circulating at the same time, something health unit officials noted as unique.
“In previous seasons, influenza B has tended to circulate later in the season than influenza A,” the report said, adding the cases reported to health officials saw a nearly 50/50 split between the strains. Six people reported having both influenza A and B.
In addition to the rise in influenza-related cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, influenza outbreaks also increased during the 2017-18 season.
The health unit said 71 outbreaks averaging 13 days were declared in regional facilities over the course of the season, with 40 taking place just in long-term care homes. Elsewhere, 18 outbreaks were declared in hospitals, and 13 in retirement homes. The highest number of outbreaks, 11, was reported around Christmas.
A total of 40 outbreaks were reported during the 2016-17 season, and 12 during the 2015-16 season.
“In general, immunization coverage rates of staff in Middlesex-London hospitals was comparable to the province as a whole,” the report said, adding local coverage rates for long-term care staff was lower compared to the Ontario median.
Flu shots for the current flu season, now underway, have been distributed to local health providers since early October, the report said.
Information about influenza and where flu shots can be acquired can be found on the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s website.