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Influenza cases down significantly across Interior Health region, province say health officials

Click to play video: 'Cases of Influenza down significantly' Cases of Influenza down significantly
Cases of Influenza down significantly – Jan 6, 2021

Flu season typically peaks between December and February. This winter, though, influenza activity has been almost non-existent so far.

“We really have no indication of seasonal influenza virus in B.C., or in the Interior Health Authority region this year,” said Dr. Sue Pollock, acting chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority (IHA).

“This is a trend we’ve been observing since July 2020, so really exceptionally low flu activity.”

Read more: Research shows COVID-19 immunity different than flu immunity, antibodies drop ‘rapidly’ after recovery

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC), between the end of September and the middle of December, on average, there are 338 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in B.C.

But this season, so far, there have only been eight cases — an exceptionally low number, considering COVID-19 test samples also get tested for influenza strains.

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“For a period of time between the end of September and mid-December, there were more than 20,000 Influenza tests performed in B.C.,” Pollock told Global News.

“That’s really double the number of tests performed for the same period of time last year.”

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Health officials believe that pandemic measures have curtailed the spread of the flu virus.

“Measures such as physical distancing, wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, hand hygiene and avoiding large gatherings is also very important for control of this type of virus,” said Pollock.

According to health officials, the dramatic drop in influenza cases is also largely attributed to the increased number of people who received a flu shot this season.

The BC CDC allocated the Interior Health region 30 per cent more flu vaccine shots than ever before.

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“The lineups for flu vaccine were unprecedented,” said Dr. Toye Oyelese. “I mean, pharmacies were running out of vaccines.

“People were putting their names down. Usually during the flu season, sometimes it’s a hard sell Not this year.”

Read more: ‘Exceptionally low’: Canada’s flu season drops amid coronavirus restrictions

Oyelese said he’s barely seen any flu patients this season.

He says the main reason for the downturn is that when people call the clinic with any kind of flu-like symptoms, they are almost always advised to get a COVID test.

“I suspect when people have a negative result, they just take care of things themselves and they don’t necessarily have to come back and see us,” Oyelese said.

“So we have not been seeing as many people.”

While this may be an exceptional flu season, Oyelese said it’s possible the pandemic may impact the flu season for years to come.

“I think the level of understanding, public-wise, is much higher than in previous years,” said Oyelese.

“And I really do believe that these new habits that we have formed hopefully will carry on into the next season.”

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