With flu season just around the corner and Manitobans still dealing with COVID-19, the province and health experts are getting ready to try to get ahead of what is an unpredictable and unprecedented situation
“This year is a wildcard,” Dr. Jason Kindrachuk said. “We have no idea what’s going to happen.”
It’s why health experts are urging Manitobans to roll up their sleeves and get the flu shot this year.
“This year, any extra protection that we can afford that will limit the amount of pressure we put on a health care system is going to be crucial for us,” he said.
By the end of last flu season, just over 26 per cent of Manitobans got the vaccine, which was a record year.
Normally only around 19 per cent of Manitobans get vaccinated.
The province told Global News it has ordered enough flu vaccine to immunize 40 per cent of the population.
“Additional vaccine may be available to purchase if required. Manitoba increased its order by 20 per cent from last year,” a Manitoba spokesperson said. “This includes all vaccines, regular and high dose.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada said the goal is to hit an 80 per cent immunization rate to ward off the flu, however in 2018-19, only 42 per cent of Canadians got the shot.
“For all those people who’ve chosen not to get a flu shot in the past… get a flu shot this year,” Director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy Dr. Alan Katz said. “There’s a good reason to do it.”
Katz said getting a flu shot is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to protection and it can help ensure our healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed with flu patients in the midst of a pandemic.
“That’s the first step with all of these things. It’s about prevention,” Dr. Alan Katz said. “The first thing to do is to get a flu shot. We’ve got a flu vaccine. It’s available will be very soon.”
This year it could prove to be even more important for Manitobans to get vaccinated according to medical experts.
‘”Just to make sure that you’re not confused between covered and the flu,” Dr. Katz said. “That’s the major reason, (so there’s) not the confusion. Also, if you’re unfortunate enough to get both, that would be a significant challenge.“
Flu vs COVID-19
Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
But there are some very common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share including:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
However, distinguishing between the common cold, influenza and COVID-19 can be very difficult.
“When we look at the initial stages, when somebody gets infected, we call them influenza like illnesses or influenza like symptoms,” Infectious Disease expert Dr. Jason Kindrachuk said. “That’s simply because predominantly that’s what it looks like.”
“The one symptom that’s kind of unique to COVID-19 is loss of smell,” he said. “But once again, it doesn’t occur in everybody. So it becomes very challenging for us to determine what you’ve got without actually doing a test. “
Mortality and Severity
For COVID-19, the World Health Organization said data to date suggest that 80 per cent of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15 per cent are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5 per cent are critical infections, requiring ventilation.
“Influenza, also known as the flu, is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in Canada, averaging 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year,” the federal government states on its website.
The WHO also said death rates for COVID-19 are higher than they are for influenza, especially when it comes to the seasonal flu.
“What we’re seeing is the hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are higher than what they are for influenza,” Dr. Kindrachuk said. “The severity of the disease seems to be higher.”
While COVID-19 is still a relatively new virus, the data collected by the WHO to date said the mortality rate of the virus is between 3 to 4 per cent.
For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1 per cent, according to the organization.
“We know that influenza has a massive number of fatalities and a massive toll on public health across the globe each year,” Dr. Kindrachuk said. “We estimate 500,000 deaths across the world, probably 30,000 to 50,000 in the US. This year as a wildcard.”
As doctors and researchers have started to learn more about COVID-19, they have started to get a better understanding of why it is being treated differently. The virus is deadly, easily spread (especially in large groups) and there is no idea how long it will last.
“With influenza each year we a very concerted approach to messaging for people to get the vaccines,” he said. “But we don’t see (are) things like lockdowns. We don’t see people that are distancing. We don’t see the use of masks being used predominantly throughout our population.”
“So I think what we need to consider is that even with all those things in place, we’ve still seen, you know, over a thousand cases now within Manitoba. This is not a normal disease.“