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Have we weathered the peak of flu season?

Lia Grainger
Shine On
January 17, 2013

If you haven’t been affected by the flu this year yet, you’re one of the lucky ones. It seems we’re reaching the point in the season when nearly every household and office has been touched by the long arm of the influenza virus.

While statistics indicate that we may have weathered the peak of flu season, experts warn there’s no ruling out a second surge of the wily virus.

“Influenza is unpredictable,” says Sylwia Gomez, spokesperson for The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). "We may see another strain appearing.”

At the moment, there are high rates of infection in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, Southern Ontario, Newfoundland, and Southern Quebec.

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Data from the PHAC’s most recent FluWatch report reveals that the number of individuals testing positive for influenza peaked in the last week of December and then began to decline in the first week of January.

But while this sounds like great news, it may also be misleading.

While the percentage of confirmed cases have declined, schools and hospitals in more regions across Canada have reported widespread and localized flu activity, with 107 new influenza outbreaks reported.

Tim Sly, a professor of epidemiology at Ryerson University and an influenza expert, says that while there was a small dip in the number of cases over the holidays, that could easily be due to reduced monitoring and tracking of the flu because people are consumed with their festivities.

“The normal peak is in February,” adds Sly.

The prevalent strain this year is A/H3N2, accounting for about 95 per cent of cases. Sly says it is a little more severe than normal seasonal flu and that it seems to be spreading effectively.

Also see: Fighting the flu: A naturopath's top five recommendations

It’s also worth noting that there are a lot of other viruses making us sick right now, and many of them are easily confused with the flu.

It was a bad fall for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which isn’t the flu, but generates similar symptoms, reports the Calgary Herald. It hits children the worst, and you can catch it multiple times. The condition is reportedly on the rise right now in Canada, though that will vary by region.

There’s also the norovirus — a nasty bug that causes vomiting for 24 to 48 hours and is often wrongly referred to has the stomach flu (it’s not influenza). So far, it’s hit B.C. And Alberta, but has yet to take off in Ontario.

If government data is not decisive enough for you, try taking a look at Google Flu Trends. It tracks internet searches related to the flu to map the prevalence of the flu around the world and has proved to be surprisingly accurate in the past, reports Infomart.

Google’s prognosis? It’s bad, real bad. Last week, the U.S. and Canada experienced search activity nearing what Infomart describes as “intense levels.”

Since it's too soon to say for certain weather we've weathered the peak of this year's flu season, Gomez reminds us that it's never to late to get the flu shot, and says that the current shot is particularly well matched with this year’s strain.

For more information on beating the flu, visit Fightflu.ca.

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