British Columbia has confirmed its first influenza cases of the season, prompting another plea from health officials for residents to get vaccinated as the health-care system strains under existing COVID-19 pressures.
Provincial flu surveillance has detected four cases, three of them influenza A and one of them influenza B.
At a Thursday briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it was too early to tell which strain would become dominant.
“We do know that so far the strains we’re seeing are in the vaccine,” she said, urging people to take advantage of free flu shots to help prevent further strain on the health-care system.
“(It) causes outbreaks in long-term care, it causes outbreaks in schools, it causes outbreaks in our health-care system every year, and we don’t need that on top of what we’re dealing with particularly with COVID this year.”
The flu was all but wiped out in the 2020-2021 season.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, provincial flu surveillance picks up about 5,600 cases in an average year. Last year, just 18 cases were detected in B.C.
That has some doctors, like Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre medical director Dr. Brian Conway, concerned.
“We didn’t build up any community-based immunity from last year’s virus,” he said.
“It poses significant challenges because if someone presents to a health-care provider with any of these symptoms we will probably feel compelled to do a COVID test.”
Conway said because of last year’s mild flu season, doctors also don’t have a good idea of what contracting both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time would do to someone.
“We know if you get the flu it suppresses your immune system to some extent and it allows for other infection such as bacterial pneumonia to take hold,” he said.
Ajid Johal, a pharmacist and clinical director for Immunize.io, said he was watching the situation closely given the return to nearly pre-pandemic levels of social activity.
A more robust flu season, he said, will only add to existing pressure on the province’s hospitals.
“We’re starting to get more events going and we’re starting to increase our social bubble, so that means we will start to see more transmission,” he said.
“It compresses for the same resources, so those who have a bad bout of influenza will potentially need ventilators, they will need ICU beds, so it’s not something we should be taking lightly.”
Briish Columbia has sourced about 2.4 million doses of the flu vaccine this year, and shots are available free of charge to anyone in B.C. over the age of six months.
You can find out more about where to get vaccinated here.