ALBERTON, P.E.I. - Hundreds of Island residents have been hit with the flu this winter, said the Chief Public Health Officer.
Dr. Heather Morrison said since the current flu season arrived on the Island in October, as of Jan. 12,the number of lab-confirmed cases of influenza grew to 58; 39 of those cases were confirmed as of Jan. 1.
Morrison said confirmation numbers are more of an indication of severity and often relate to those who seek medical care.
“Most people who have influenza do not seek medical attention; many of the people who do seek medical attention aren’t necessarily tested,” she said. “In this case, we have 58 lab-confirmed cases of influenza, but we know there are a lot more, hundreds of more people, who have influenza than what our lab-confirmed cases would indicate.”
There have been no reported outbreaks in long-term care facilities, and one school has reported an absentee rate high enough to suggest an influenza-like illness.
Tracy Richard of Alma knows how quickly influenza can hit.
“Within three hours we were down with it, the four of us,” she said of her family’s bout with the flu during Christmas.
It was five days before they had all recovered, she said, adding they had not received the flu vaccine and they have not had lab work done.
There have been 21 hospitalizations, including three people who were treated in intensive care, since the flu season arrived.
Morrison said it is not too late to get the flu vaccination which is administered free of charge in doctor’s offices, pharmacies and by public health nurses.
But its benefits are not immediate, she said.
“Once you get the flu shot, it takes a couple of weeks for it to mount a response to try to protect you,” she said, adding that one cannot get influenza from the actual flu vaccine.
The World Health Organization selects the strains to include in its vaccine almost a year in advance of the actual flu season.
“It’s not 100 per cent effective, but we know it will reduce your chances of being hospitalized if you do get influenza," Morrison said of the vaccine.
Flu symptoms usually appear one to four days after exposure, she said.
Pharmacists at Alberton Pharmacy said they are seeing an increase this year in the number of people getting prescriptions filled to fight the flu.
Pharmacist Naomi Lynde said medications can help shorten the symptoms and minimize complications.
Besides the flu shot, Morrison recommends the three C’s for guarding against the spread of influenza: clean, cover and contain, which relate to frequent hand-washing, covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing and staying home when sick.
“We know that influenza is still ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada," she said.
It was blamed for six P.E.I. deaths during the 2017-18 flu season. There have been no deaths in P.E.I. linked to the flu so far this season.
While the elderly and people in long-term care facilities are listed among those who are at greatest risk of flu-like complications, Morrison said most of the cases resulting in hospitalization so far this flu season involve people under the age of 65. The median age is 44.
“I think it also has to do with the strain that is circulating,” Morrison said.
The predominant strain of influenza A this year has been A/pH1N1, and Morrison said it seems to be impacting the under 65 population more.
Last year’s predominant strain, influenza A/H3, tended to have a bigger impact on the over-65 population and has been confirmed in Canada, but there have been no lab-confirmed cases of it in P.E.I. to date.
This year’s vaccine provides protection against both of those strains.