There could be a very difficult flu season ahead in Ontario, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott and local public health officials.
According to Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, flu activity in Australia may indicate how the virus will impact London.
“It’s not a perfect match by any means. Sometimes, you might have a slightly worse season in Australia than we would get here, or maybe the Australian season isn’t so bad and we get a slightly worse season, but it certainly gives us some indication of what might happen so we’ve been monitoring that for a while,” he said.
In Australia, health authorities are reporting unusually high flu activity for this time of year. While the overall severity is low, hospitalizations are three times the normal rate, and there have been more than 200 deaths so far, the country’s health department said.
“We never really know how severe a flu season is until it’s over because it can happen at different times during the year, but certainly, the fact that Australia is peaking high and peaking early makes us perk up and pay attention,” said Summers.
Bad flu seasons can be caused by new strains of the virus or a vaccine that doesn’t match well with the influenza strain that year, he added.
Along with Australia’s current flu season, Summers said vaccination hesitancy is a constant concern.
“We want to remind people that vaccination is safe, it’s effective and it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from infectious disease, which, a generation ago, would have caused people to be hospitalized or even die,” he said.
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To prepare, the province is stocking up on extra high-strength vaccines. Ontario has already ordered 300,000 more doses of high-dose flu vaccines than last year.
“The more of us that get vaccinated, the more we’re able to protect those for whom the vaccine might not work as well and those who are more vulnerable to having severe health outcomes if they do get sick,” said Summers.
“The more the merrier when it comes to influenza vaccine. We highly encourage you to get it.”
London enjoyed a relatively good season last year, but Summers said that does not mean the coming season will be as calm.