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This year’s flu season could get ugly: UBC medical expert

Many experts predict this year’s flu season could be severe with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions
woman-getting-flu-shot
A professor at the University of British Columbia explains why with the easing of coronavirus restrictions the common flu could make a comeback. Photo: Getty Images

More often than not, when someone came to the hospital with a respiratory infection nine months ago it was very likely they had COVID-19. Now a professor with UBC’s faculty of medicine says doctors’ "usual suspect" is making a comeback: the flu.

Dr. Michael Curry explained in a recent Q&A with the university how this year’s flu season will have some key differences compared to last year.

“Last flu season we essentially had no cases of influenza and relatively few cases of other respiratory viruses here in Canada,” said Curry attributing the lack of flu cases to the increase in COVID-19 infections. However, Curry says common respiratory viruses are back and circulating again.

“While we are still seeing COVID-19 in Canada, we are finding other respiratory viruses on a regular basis as well,” he said.

Resurgence in influenza expected

Curry fielded questions on how this year’s flu season might interact with the fourth wave of COVID-19. With the upsurge in other respiratory viruses, a resurgence in influenza can be expected.

“A bad flu season can rapidly fill up emergency departments and hospital beds, and as we all know, COVID-19 is already doing a good job at that,” Curry said, stressing the importance of British Columbians taking steps to not spread the flu -- and not just for their own health.

“Take the same precautions you are already taking for COVID-19: stay home when sick, wash your hands, cough into your sleeve, wear masks in public areas, and get immunized,” he said.

Curry was also asked if people will be more susceptible to the flu because of germ avoidance and social distancing measures over the past year and a half. Curry says the opposite is true as viruses evolve only if given the opportunity to spread to more people.

“COVID-19 public health measures have had a secondary effect of suppressing the spread and adaptation of other respiratory viruses,” he said. “Fewer cases equate to less evolution of those viruses, which means your body’s immune system is more likely to be familiar with that virus and better able to fight it off.”

Curry also answered questions on telling the difference between COVID-19 versus the flu and the perceived need to space out COVID-19 vaccines or flu shots. For his full responses check out the Q&A on UBC’s website.

Flu shots more important than ever

This Friday (Oct. 15) in Ottawa, Canada's top doctor had a similar warning. The news comes as surveillance data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows higher rates of infection than expected for some of Canada's most common seasonal viruses.

Dr. Theresa Tam said a heavy flu season could put extra pressure on already fragile healthcare systems.

Tam added this is definitely not the year to have influenza wreak havoc.

That's why public health said it will be more important than ever that people get flu shots to avoid complications like pneumonia and protect hospitals from becoming overloaded.

Here's what you need to know about getting your flu shot in Metro Vancouver.

With files from the Canadian Press