By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
Despite seeing confirmed influenza numbers that are outstripping the average in the province, this year’s flu strain is fairly normal, according to Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the associate medical officer of health for Waterloo Region.
The difference this year: we got a head start.
“It’s been a little busier than we normally have,” she said.
“We had an early start, then we had a progression that was within what we would expect. But it was early, and so it reached activity levels that are considered what would be peak levels just recently.”
Last year, the province had 15 lab-confirmed flu cases between Sept. 1 and Dec. 10. This year there were 729 reported cases in the same time period. There were also no reported institutional outbreaks of the disease during the last flu season, but there may have been 49 so far this year, according to the Ministry of Long-term Care.
Of the 729 reported cases in the province, 154 were in Waterloo Region as of Dec. 10.
But it’s not just flu that’s bowling people over.
“There’s been lots of (flu) cases around, and I think a lot of people are feeling the effects of that. There’s also other respitory viruses that tend to circulate this time of year that we don’t report on because they’re not monitored like flu is, but they can give similar respiratory symptoms,” said Wang.
“There’s also a lot of illnesses of the gastrointestinal nature with vomiting and diarrhea. Not as frequent, but there are more than we usually have.”
The gastrointestinal illness that’s going around is often caused by the Norovirus, according to Wang.
So far this season, the region has seen five flu-related deaths.
“Oftentimes people who develop complications or pass away from flu are those that do have underlying conditions,” said Wang.
“[Five deaths] is actually within what we would expect within a flu season. Unfortunately, there are always a number of deaths each season and five would be within what we would expect.”
This year’s strain of the flu is typical influenza A, and the course of the illness is no different than what would be expected, according to Wang.
While flu vaccine manufacturers are sometimes wrong in the strains they predict, this year the vaccine is a good match, she said.
As always, there are certain measures you can take to try to avoid getting sick.
“My recommendations are, get the flu shot if you haven’t gotten it yet. It’s not too late, you can still get it from family doctors, pharmacies and some workplaces offer it,” said Wang, noting there will be public clinics in the new year.
Hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough and staying home if you’re ill also help keep everyone healthy.
“If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms like nauseau or vomiting, don’t cook for others this holiday season,” said Wang.
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Public flu clinics
Jan. 3: 2-8 p.m. at the Public Health office, 99 Regina St. S., Waterloo, room 508
Jan. 10: 2-8 p.m. at the Public Health office, 150 Main St.,
Cambridge, room 170.
If you cannot attend a flu clinic, call your doctor or ask a pharmacist about getting vaccinated. Many family doctor provide vaccinations, and pharmacist received the ability to administer flu shots earlier this year.
For more information call Public Health at 519-883-2000.