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Lack of Alberta flu cases highlights ‘how dangerous COVID-19 truly is’: Hinshaw

Click to play video 'Influenza and COVID-19: similar symptoms, vastly different consequences' Influenza and COVID-19: similar symptoms, vastly different consequences
WATCH (Nov. 13, 2020): While the flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, the two couldn't be further apart when it comes to the number of cases in Alberta. Sarah Ryan takes a look at why, and what it means for the healthcare system – Nov 13, 2020

In less than a year, the novel coronavirus has killed more Albertans than seasonal influenza has in 10 years — a staggering statistic Dr. Deena Hinshaw hopes will drive home how “COVID-19 is unlike any virus that we have faced in Alberta in more than 100 years.”

Alberta is writing “a very different story” this year when it comes to cases of influenza, with zero lab-confirmed cases reported as of Jan. 28, the chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

Read more: Alberta has reported 0 cases of influenza so far this season

That’s a stark difference to last year, when the province recorded 8,470 cases, as well as 1,605 hospitalizations, with 161 people having to be admitted to ICUs. Forty-one people died in hospital from the flu last year.

“To date, we have not had a single confirmed case of seasonal influenza in the province.

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“This is not a result of no longer testing for influenza or testing fewer samples,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

“In fact, our labs are doing more weekly influenza testing than they ever have before — they’re completing about 300 per cent more influenza tests than they would usually do in a typical year.”

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Why getting the flu vaccine during the pandemic is important – Nov 21, 2020

Hinshaw said the fact that “every single one of those tests has come back negative” is a testament to how public health measures directed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 are protecting Albertans, and how they can continue to protect them from the more deadly and highly transmissible pandemic virus.

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“The measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 have stopped the spread of influenza this year,” she said.

“While we hoped there would be fewer influenza cases, what we’ve actually seen is that the public health measures put in place these last 11 months have truly stopped seasonal influenza in its tracks.”

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Hinshaw also highlighted that the lack of flu cases underscores the differing severity of the two viruses: in less than a year, COVID-19 has led to 4,000 more hospitalizations and five times more ICU admissions than the entire 2019-2020 flu season.

“The measures that we’ve put in place to fight COVID-19 are unprecedented in Alberta’s history. Despite these steps, there have still been more than 122,000 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Alberta so far,” the chief medical officer of health said.

Read more: Alberta slams federal rollout of COVID-19 vaccine as positivity rate sits at 3.9%

Hinshaw said without the health measures put in place to control spread, the “highly contagious” pandemic virus could have had “catastrophic” impacts on the province and the health-care system.

Alberta also saw the highest uptake in flu vaccinations in the last 10 years this year, with more than 1.5 million doses administered so far. That accounts for about 200,000 more shots given than at this time last year.

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

Hinshaw said once vaccine supply picks up, the province will be able to expand the immunization program to more of the population.

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“In the meantime, we cannot underestimate the power of public health measures to protect us from COVID-19,” she said.

“Even a single case can spark an outbreak, and every day our actions protect each other from those outbreaks.”