Alberta influenza cases continue downward trend in first week of 2023

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

In the first week of 2023, the number of Albertans admitted to hospital, sent to the ICU or who died from influenza continued to increase overall, even as the week-by-week cases trend downward.

Between Dec. 31, 2022 and Jan. 7, Alberta Health reported 13 more deaths and 106 more hospitalizations than the previous week, and 160 more lab-confirmed cases.

Almost every age range except kids five to nine saw an increase in hospitalizations, including three more infants and 13 more children between the age of one and four.

All of the deaths reported by the province were people over the age of 50, and all of the people admitted to ICU this past week because of the flu were adults 30 or older.

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This 2022-23 cold and flu season, there have been 1,918 hospitalizations, 196 ICU admissions and 8,495 cases.

As has been the case for weeks, Influenza A (H3N2) remains the dominant subtype.

Provincial ICU capacity, including surge beds, sat at 84 per cent on Jan. 12, down from 87 per cent a week ago.

Lab-confirmed cases have been trending down since they peaked in mid-November.

Doctors in Alberta warned back in November things could be worse: the viral illness season typically doesn’t ramp up until the thick of winter. But this year, numbers began to skyrocket in the fall.

So far this season, middle-aged Albertans have been the least affected by the illness, or the least likely to seek medical treatment that would result in being tested for the flu.

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The numbers reported by the province only offer a snapshot of the cases showing up in hospital and don’t necessarily reflect the virus activity amongst the broader population.

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

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While the number of flu shot doses increased by more than 16,000 on the first week of 2023, the percentage of Albertans who have been vaccinated against influenza decreased a fraction of a percentage point from 26.9 to 26.6 per cent.

The majority of those who have gotten their flu shot did so back in October and November, according to the province.

Albertans aged 20 to 24 years have had the lowest flu vaccine uptake at only 11.2 per cent — unchanged from last week — with 25- to 29-year-olds second-lowest at 13.4 per cent.

People in their twenties have not been unaffected by influenza, with 68 hospitalized and nine admitted to ICU in the season that started in September 2022.

As has been the case for weeks, the Alberta Medical Association said that number is still too low and on Thursday, urged Albertans to protect themselves against all viral illnesses.

“With Kraken variant in circulation, available data shows only 41 per cent of Albertans have had three doses of COVID vaccine. All Albertans should get COVID boosters when eligible,” the AMA said in a series of tweets.

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“A past COVID infection or those first two COVID vaccines many months ago offer little protection against Kraken.”

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

— With files from Adam Toy, Global News

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