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B.C. seeing significantly fewer influenza cases so far this season

While much of the public’s attention is focused on the COVID-19 virus, health officials in B.C. are also on the lookout for influenza.
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British Columbia is seeing dramatically fewer influenza cases this year. Photo: Getty Images

While much of the public’s attention is focused on the COVID-19 virus, health officials in B.C. are also on the lookout for influenza.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that typically by this time of the year, B.C. would have between 700 and 800 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza.

This year, there have been just a handful. 

“We have a very detailed influenza surveillance network in the province that we’ve had for many years,” Dr. Henry said, explaining early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the province used its flu network to piggyback coronavirus testing.

“We are quite confident that we are looking for it and we are not seeing a lot of influenza circulating right now,” she said. “We think, and we hope, this will continue and that's partly because of the measures that we have in place to prevent transmission of COVID-19.”

Double the tests for influenza, almost no cases

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s Influenza Surveillance bulletin for the week ending Nov. 14 said the province has completed roughly 10,000 influenza tests since Sept. 17 — more than double a typical year.

"There is still no indication of seasonal influenza virus in BC, an ongoing absence since July," the bulletin says.

Dr. Henry said Monday many people who are now getting tested for COVID-19 are also getting tested for the flu. Both viruses are transmitted in similar ways, she said, noting the southern hemisphere also saw a very slow flu season. 

Like COVID-19, the influenza virus poses risks to the long-term senior care system. 

The BC Centre for Disease Control says the last influenza outbreak in a seniors' home in B.C. was in March. In the same flu season last year, between Sep. 29 to Nov. 16 of 2019, there were three long-term care facility outbreaks.

The picture looks the same looking across the country, according to the BC CDC. For the week of  Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, the average weekly percentage of tests positive nationally for influenza was 0.04%, compared to 4.6% during the past 6 seasons.

Dr. Henry said it is also helpful that there has been such a demand for the flu shot this year. Simultaneous outbreaks of both the influenza virus and COVID-19 would put the healthcare system under massive strain. 

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