Peak of influenza may have passed, but prep underway for more waves: Alberta health minister

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Alberta health minister says current peak of influenza may have passed, bracing for more waves in new year
Alberta’s health minister says the current peak of influenza may have passed, but health experts are warning of more waves to come. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports. – Dec 11, 2022

Alberta’s health minister says the current peak of influenza in the province may have passed.

The most recent provincial data shows there have been 1,124 people in hospital with the flu. There have now been 6,288 cases of influenza recorded in the province this season, but the weekly charts also show increases from the past two weeks have not been as dramatic as in mid-November

Health minister Jason Copping said on Friday it’s a challenging time, but predicts the province could be turning a corner — for now.

“It appears right now that we have peaked in terms of this current bout of flu,” Copping said. “It can come back in the flu season. You may have multiple spikes, but looking at the wastewater data and also in terms of the number of inpatients, that’s been reducing for a couple of weeks now.”

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Copping said there is a delay between what is seen in the hospitals and the amount of influenza detected in waste water.

“That takes time to see that show up in the hospital, so even though the numbers are reducing, they’re still putting pressure on the hospitals.  Our current assessment is that over the next couple of weeks we should see that pressure come off,” he said.

Gosia Gasperowicz is a developmental biologist and a researcher at the University of Calgary. She is also a co-founder of Zero COVID Canada.

She points to previous years, when there have been three peaks in the flu season.

“So because we see a peak for the moment doesn’t mean that it will go down to zero or to small numbers,” Gasperowicz said.

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“Adults are getting infected.  Kids are still ending up in the hospital in ICU and some might die. So if we would introduce any protections right now, it would reduce those numbers.”

Gasperowicz said there are many proven measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of influenza and COVID-19.

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“We should not let our guard down and we should really do everything we can to stop the spread. We have a lot of simple tools.  Masks and mask requirements are one of the simplest ones and the cheapest ones.  We used them before and they worked,” Gasperowicz said.

One pediatrician from B.C. is warning people to take precautions as the holiday season approaches.

“We are not at the end of this, so we expect there will be cases going probably over the holiday season,” warns Dr. Pascal Lavoie, a University of British Columbia professor. “I think people need to be careful to limit the spread of respiratory viruses by avoiding overcrowding.”

A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the posted data lags about a week behind the current date.

“The number of new cases reported has dropped in each of the past two weeks,” said Charity Wallace in a statement.

“This data and the wastewater data on flu levels suggests we may have passed a peak in influenza but it’s too early to say for sure, and it will likely remain a very challenging respiratory winter regardless, due to other respiratory viruses and generally high pressure on the health system.”

Wallace said everyone, regardless of age, should get their annual influenza vaccine.

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“The Alberta government and Alberta Health Services have social media, online and billboard campaigns to further emphasize the value of being immunized against influenza. In the upcoming weeks, there are plans for additional promotion over social media.”

According to Alberta Health, 24% of Albertans have received an influenza vaccine.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger says there’s no “usually” in the world anymore since the pandemic and is warning to be prepared for anything.

“Usually, we would see one major peak of influenza A, and then sometimes we’d see a secondary peak of influenza A, then sometimes we’d see a secondary peak of influenza B, later in the season, so that could still occur,” said the University of Alberta-based specialist.

“There have been a few years where we’ve seen different strains of influenza A come through in slightly different waves, but that’s uncommon. I’ll say, however, that uncommon seems to be the name of the game lately, so I would keep an open mind about what might happen throughout the rest of this fall and winter and spring, because it really could vary from what we expect.”

In light of that, the Alberta NDP is calling for Premier Danielle Smith to publicly endorse the flu shot, something the health minister has done.

“We urge everyone — if you haven’t got your flu shot, please go to your local pharmacy and get it done,” Copping said on Friday.

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“We are continuing to build capacity in our system because we may very well be back in another bout of flu in the new year,” Copping said.

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