Flu cases hit record lows during pandemic: researcher

Click to play video: 'Low flu cases yields lessons for pandemic: scientist'
Low flu cases yields lessons for pandemic: scientist
WATCH: While COVID-19 was spreading around the world, another virus wasn't, as flu infections reach a historic low – Mar 14, 2021

While COVID-19 and its variants have been spreading, infecting and killing people across the country, another deadly virus has almost faded away.

An influenza researcher said the low case count presents a lesson and opportunity for Canadians to stay healthy.

The Canadian government has detected the flu just 121 times so far this flu season. There were more than 35,000 cases over the same time period in 2019-2020.

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Dr. Susan Detmer, a University of Saskatchewan researcher, said the number of cases is so low the flu season hasn’t technically started yet because the threshold hasn’t been met.

She said Canadians can keep the flu at bay — and hopefully the novel coronavirus, in due time — if we keep following health guidelines and get vaccinated.

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“If you’ve [received the flu shot] and if you have a good immune system, within 24 to 48 hours, you’re staunching that infection,” she said.

“We do expect to see, with coronavirus, the same thing.”

She said the number of cases is the lowest since Canada started using highly-sensitive PCR tests to track the virus about 25 years ago, though she said it’s likely the lowest ever.

The break in the yearly cycle has allowed researchers to prove some old theories, like a correlation between air travel and infections.

“If… you’re looking at the evolution of influenza viruses and compare it to air travel patterns, they match up exactly,” Detmer said.

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Detmer told Global News the public health measures put in place to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus also halted the spread of influenza.

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Now that Canadians are accustomed to washing our hands, wearing masks and not travelling when sick, Detmer said we have a historic opportunity to keep the flu minimized, though we can never eradicate it.

“It’s part of the spectrum of respiratory viruses that we see as every season in the winters, so I do see it coming back, but we certainly do have an opportunity to keep it low,” she said.

But any advantage is strategic, not tactical.

The low number of cases means flu researchers will have a harder time predicting which flu variants will emerge next.

The defence, she said, is to keep our guard up.

She said she hopes Canadians continue to practice public health measures and, above all, get vaccinated. That means all vaccinations.

According to the Canadian government, about 40 per cent of Canadians got their flu shot last year.

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