200 more Albertans hospitalized with flu since last week

Click to play video: 'Has the cold & flu season peaked in Canada?'
Has the cold & flu season peaked in Canada?
WATCH (Dec. 19): Infectious diseases expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch drops by for a weekly health check-up where he shed insight on Canada's cold and flu season, measles outbreaks, and his best advice for your holiday gatherings. – Dec 19, 2022

In the week since the last Alberta Health update on influenza data, the number of people admitted to hospitals with influenza increased by 216.

For the week of Dec. 10, there were 1,413 Albertans in hospital with the flu. For the week of Dec. 17, there were 1,629.

The number of total deaths from influenza also rose this week, from 45 to 57. Most of the fatalities this flu season are in Albertans over 60, but there have been two children under nine years old who died from the flu.

There were 170 patients being treated in intensive care units this week, compared to 140 last week.

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The number of lab-confirmed cases climbed by slightly smaller amount than the week prior, rising by 572 to 7,681 cases. Last week the increase in cases was 821.

Confirmed cases per week have been trending down for the past four weeks. Influenza A (H3N2) continues to be the dominant strain.

Click to play video: 'Alberta health minister says current peak of influenza may have passed, bracing for more waves in new year'
Alberta health minister says current peak of influenza may have passed, bracing for more waves in new year

The hospitalizations and deaths in the 2022-23 influenza season to date have met or surpassed recent historic totals. In 2018-19, there were 1,391 hospitalizations and 30 deaths. The 2019-20 influenza season saw 39 deaths and 1,534 hospitalizations.

The 2017-18 season marked a high-water mark in the past decade for hospitalizations and deaths at 3,047, and the 2014-15 season saw 114 deaths.

Between 2009 and 2020, Alberta has seen an average of 1,483 hospitalizations, 161 ICU admissions and 41 deaths in an influenza season.

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The percentage of Albertans vaccinated against influenza rose slightly — about one per cent — to 26 per cent coverage this week.

The federal government has shipped postcards out to six million households across Canada ahead of the holiday season, urging Canadians to step up their precautions as multiple viruses — including COVID-19 — continue to spread.

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The postcard warns that “more time indoors this fall and winter could lead to more COVID-19 illness.”

It goes on to remind the recipients that bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which provide protection against the Omicron variant, are now available — and that you should consider getting a booster shot if it’s been six months since your last COVID-19 vaccine or infection.

The postcard also tells the reader that additional individual public health measures, like masking in crowded areas and staying home when sick, are “always a good idea.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton doctors prepare to help Stollery during surge'
Edmonton doctors prepare to help Stollery during surge

The warning comes as multiple other respiratory illnesses are circulating in Canadian communities — especially among children. The flu and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have been ripping through Canadian households and straining hospital resources.

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“Respiratory illnesses increase in the fall and winter, when people spend more time together indoors,” said Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said that even if the flu season is currently peaking, it’s “a long way down the other side of the barrier — which means there’s still a lot of flu season ahead and you should still be getting protection.”

“We’re about to enter the holiday season. We’re going to have innumerable close contacts with people,” he said, speaking in an interview with AM640 Toronto, a radio station owned by Global News’ parent company Corus Entertainment, on Dec. 16.

“Celebrate, have a wonderful time, but do so responsibly…. If you can reduce your risk of getting infected or infecting other people, you should do that.”

Dr. Melanie Bechard, a pediatric emergency medicine physician in Ottawa, urges Canadians to get their flu shot and COVID boosters if they haven’t already.

“I’ve seen a lot of suffering in little humans that likely could have been prevented or lessened by receiving the flu shot early on,” said Bechard. “The best time to get the flu shot was a month ago, but the next best time to get it is right now.”

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— With files from Adam Toy, Heidi Lee, Rachel Gilmore, Global News

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