Flu strain affecting younger people hit Ottawa way earlier than usual, OPH says

File shot of the influenza vaccine taken in Edmonton on Oct. 28, 2019. Dayne Winter / Global News

The city’s public health agency is warning that the strain of influenza that typically affects children hit Ottawa “a lot earlier” than usual this season, as the agency confirms an abnormally high number of flu cases for this time of year.

Influenza type A tends to affect an older population, while influenza type B generally upsets a younger population, according to Marie-Claude Turcotte, a program manager with the immunization unit at Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

“Typically we see influenza B later in the season and we usually start by seeing influenza A,” Turcotte said on Monday.

“This year … even before Christmas we were starting to see an increase in influenza B. They were both kind of circulating even before the holidays.”

Click to play video: 'Flu cases to blame for West Island ER overcrowding'
Flu cases to blame for West Island ER overcrowding

The public health agency’s latest flu report — for the week of Dec. 29, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020 — notes that 256 cases of the flu have been reported since Sept. 1, 2019.

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Of those, 166 cases (or 64.8 per cent) were influenza type A, while 87 cases (or 34 per cent) were influenza B, according to the weekly report released Jan. 8. Two cases (or 0.8 per cent) were both type A and B.

READ MORE: Jump in flu diagnoses reported for London-Middlesex

Turcotte said it’s not really possible to explain the early onset of influenza B this season.

“Influenza is very hard to predict and explain in terms of its behaviour in the community,” she said.

“No one can really, truly predict how it’s going to react in the community and how it’s going to spread.”

Asked whether OPH is concerned about the number of influenza B cases at this stage, Turcotte said: “I wouldn’t qualify it as a point of concern, but it’s definitely a difference from from previous years.”

OPH seeing more cases than usual compared to same time last season

Same goes for the total number of influenza cases this season. The 256 cases recorded so far this flu season rival the 103 cases noted at this point last flu season.

“We are seeing more cases this year than we were last year at the same time,” Turcotte confirmed.

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The agency’s flu reporters show there was a major jump in cases reported since mid-December 2019.

A total of 159 cases were recorded in the Dec. 22 -28, 2019 report; it was 106 cases the week before that and 86 cases the week prior.

READ MORE: Health officials press Ottawans to get flu shot in campaign against vaccine hesitancy

Public health officials always expect “an increase at one point in the flu season,” but that spike tends to occur at different times, Turcotte said.

With weeks of the flu season left to go, the public health manager urged people to get the flu vaccine at a pharmacy or doctor’s office to protect themselves.

“A lot of people think that after the holidays, the vaccine is not available, but it is still available,” she said.

“We do recommend that people get it early. But if they haven’t received it and they’re thinking about it now, it’s not too late to get the vaccine.

Marie-Claude Turcotte, program manager for immunization at Ottawa Public Health, says it’s best to get the flu shot early but it’s “never too late” to get it if the vaccine is still available. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

In its latest flu report, OPH says it’s aware of 20 influenza outbreaks reported in Ottawa since Sept. 1 and one “influenza-related” death this season.

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Deaths associated with influenza aren’t “systematically reported” in Ontario and it’s not mandatory to report those deaths to the local public health units, Turcotte said.

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