With files from Gail Johnson.
Health officials are warning Canadians of the dangers of the H1N1 strain of influenza after a recent surge in children admitted to hospital.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the number of children admitted to hospital this flu season has doubled since this time last year, and is nearly three times as high as it was in 2016-2017. The recent strain has also sent more children to intensive care than in previous years as well.
Public health experts say the recent spike in illnesses amongst Canadian youth is due to the resurgence of the H1N1 strain after two years of the flu season being dominated by H3N2 (Type A).
To help combat the effects of the flu, officials are urging people to get their flu shots.
“We’re starting to see ramp-up in our indicators, predominantly H1N1 activity,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)’s epidemiology lead of influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens. “For people who may have been putting off getting vaccinated, don’t delay any further. It takes about two weeks to mount an effective antibody response following vaccination. With the holiday season, the clock is ticking there…Generally, when you see a ramp-up, it does not recede until you get past the peak.”
Experts note that flu shots seemingly work better against H1N1 than other strains such as H3N2. While the elderly tend to experience the most complications and deaths from the flu, they are seemingly protected from the virus now.
“Generally H1N1 seasons can be milder,” explained Michelle Murti, a public health physician with Public Health Ontario. “The reason they can be milder is that seniors who lived through H1N1 when they were younger have better immunity against H1N1. What we do see is a shift to a younger age group in H1N1 years where children and adults end to be more susceptible.”
Although healthy children will make a full recovery from the flu, it can have dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences for children with preexisting medical conditions.
“Kids with heart or lung conditions or conditions that may compromise their immune systems like cancer have a harder time clearing the virus, and I wouldn’t want to risk that,” Skowronski added. “High-risk children and people with high-risk conditions of any age should get protection and their close contacts should also get protection to build a wall of immunity around them.”
Flu symptoms can include the sudden onset of fever, cough and muscle aches, as well as headaches, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. Some people, particularly children may also experience diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
People are encouraged to seek medical attention if they experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing (including rapid breathing), chest pain, bluish or grey skin, bloody mucous, dizziness or confusion, as well as vomiting.