Dr. Joanne Langley said the flu season kicked off early this year in October. It usually begins in late December or early January.
“We are definitely in an epidemic if one looks at the tracking of the number of cases we would expect and when we would expect them,” Langley said. “This is an unusual season. We are seeing a very rapid rise in the number of cases and it’s at a fairly high level.”
Her comments come after numbers were released in a new report keeping a close watch on flu cases in the province.
According to the data in the province’s most recent Respiratory Watch Report, 87 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza were reported in the week ending Nov. 12. In previous years, Nova Scotia didn’t reach that weekly number until March.
Langley believes cases in the community are even higher. She said the flu can be serious for some people, especially children under the age of five.
“Over half of the cases in Nova Scotia in that surveillance system are people under 19 years of age,” she said. “We’re certainly seeing children being hospitalized with influenza.”
According to the federal government, the flu is among the 10 leading causes of death in Canada. It causes an estimated 12,200 hospital stays and 3,500 deaths in the country each year.
Langley is encouraging people to book their flu shot.
“There are a number of aspects that would make one worry about the different influenza season,” she said. “One is if people have had time to get the vaccine. We would normally roll out the vaccine program in October and really you can get it throughout the fall and January. You need to get your vaccine now.”
In a statement, Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness is reporting that nearly 18,000 appointments have been booked out of the 39,000 available.
Of those, 3,443 have been scheduled in the six months to two years old age group. There are 14,544 bookings amongst those older than two.
The province is also reminding the pubic it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to provide protection.
“We encourage everyone to continue their healthy habits learned and adopted through the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. “If possible, if someone has cold or flu symptoms they should stay home until they are feeling better. If staying home is not possible, they should wear a mask when in public and avoid high-risk settings.”
Langley isn’t sure what will happen over the next few months in terms of the virus’ spread.
“This is an unusual circumstance in the world where we’ve had a pandemic that’s basically eliminated the circulation of a lot of viruses and bacteria,” she said. “Now we’re opening up and facing a new experience.”
However, Langley added the peak of an epidemic usually lasts four to eight weeks.