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Alberta doctors urge vaccinations as influenza deaths mount

A patient receives an influenza vaccine in Mesquite, Texas, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The flu has returned with a vengeance after being absent for a couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic. It's hitting children especially hard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-LM Otero

Twenty more Albertans died of influenza in the past two weeks, according to the latest data released by the province.

To Dec. 31, 2022, 77 Albertans had their deaths attributed to influenza. That number is approaching double the decade’s average.

In the two weeks since the last publicly published data report, there were 183 more influenza hospitalizations and 10 new ICU admissions. And there were 654 more lab-confirmed cases.

Influenza A (H3N2) remains the dominant subtype.

This season, there have been 1,812 hospitalizations, 180 ICU admissions and 8,335 cases.

Provincial ICU capacity, including surge beds, sat at 87 per cent on Jan. 6.

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Lab-confirmed cases have been trending down since Nov. 20, but pre-pandemic flu seasons have often seen a resurgence in cases – a second wave.

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

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

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The percentage of Albertans who have been vaccinated against influenza inched up to 26.9 per cent, a number the Alberta Medical Association called “still too low.”

“Our wise seniors are getting the point (and the shot): 65.5 per cent of those over 65 have been immunized against influenza,” the AMA posted on social media.

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“We are very concerned that only 23.7 per cent of children between six months and four years have been vaccinated.”

Albertans aged 20 to 24 years have had the lowest flu vaccine uptake at only 11.2 per cent, with 25- to 29-year-olds second-lowest at 13.3 per cent. That age cohort hasn’t been unaffected by influenza, with 67 hospitalized and nine admitted to ICU in the season that started in September 2022.

Vaccines can be booked online, by calling Health Link at 811 or by calling your local pharmacy.

Recent trends shown on the University of Calgary’s Centre for Health Informatics wastewater testing portal showed influenza levels trending down in cities like Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray, but trending up in cities like Lethbridge, Brooks and Medicine Hat.

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