Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Canada’s chief public health officer says more children are being hospitalized this flu season because of an early spike in a strain of influenza B, which hits young people hard and is circulating across the country, while a strain that typically targets the elderly also makes the rounds.

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later and the “double dose” of both influenza A and B strains has not been seen in Canada since 2015.

“Right now we have influenza A-H3N2, which is still predominant, but influenza A, another strain, H1N1, is escalating and influenza B is early so all of this is going on at the same time, which is certainly having an impact on different communities and individuals.”

Seniors are typically sickened by H3N2, Tam said, adding she does not yet know which strains were believed to have been linked to the deaths of two young people in Manitoba.

Blaine Ruppenthal, 17, is suspected of having died of complications from the flu, according to a letter sent to parents Monday by the principal of Kelvin High School in Winnipeg.

A spokeswoman for the provincial government cited privacy laws in declining comment on whether Ruppenthal had any pre-existing medical conditions.

Tam said the death of a 24-year-old patient in Manitoba is also believed to have occurred from similar issues.

Lab tests will be done to determine if the two cases were linked to the virus, the provincial government said in a statement.

Two other people, both over 80, have died in Manitoba from flu-related illness this season, the statement says.

“The flu is impacting younger people more this season than in previous years. Almost 200 influenza B cases are reported to date and almost all were below the age of 50. The influenza A cases reported to date are very low for this time of a season with more than half below the age of 50.”

NAVIGATING ‘FEVER PHOBIA’: B.C. doctor gives tips on when a sick kid should get to the ER

Manitoba is urging all residents to get the flu shot, which it offers for free.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said two deaths believed to be related to flu were also reported in New Brunswick this year.

The latest report from FluWatch, the agency’s surveillance program of influenza cases, says 258 children in Canada, aged 16 and under, were hospitalized over a three-week period ending Jan. 4.

“The weekly number of cases in this period is above the average over the previous five seasons,” it says.

Alison Merton, director of Collingwood Neighbourhood House, which operates over two dozen child-care programs in Vancouver for infants to school-aged kids, said more children have been sick with the flu than in the past few seasons.

The program can’t require parents to get any immunizations for their children but she said not having the flu vaccine can impact families.

“We have siblings in different programs so typically if one family goes down it does affect multiple programs,” Merton said.

Flumist, a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine, is often given to children but a global shortage means it has not been available in Canada, Tam said, adding the vaccine is an alternative for anyone over the age of six months and pregnant women who get it also protect their babies.

She said that while the vaccine is the best defence against flu, only about 43 per cent of Canadians under age 65 were immunized last year, even if they were at risk of complications, compared with 70 per cent of seniors.

“What I’m more concerned about is that people with some chronic medication conditions, such as underlying heart disease or diabetes, are not getting vaccinated.”

Isobel Mackenzie, the advocate for seniors in British Columbia, said over 80 per cent of seniors in long-term care facilities, where the flu shot is offered, get immunized and 74 per cent of staff do, too.

“Where we need to do the work is in the public,” she said, adding people who visit the elderly in care homes are putting them at risk if they aren’t vaccinated.

“To protect grandma from getting the flu it’s actually more effective for you to get your flu shot,” she said.

Unlike most other provinces, B.C. does not provide the flu shot for free, except to people 65 and over, under 19 or if they fit into a broad category, such as if they tend to be around vulnerable people including children and the elderly.

“So why don’t we just say everybody can get it for free?” Mackenzie said. ”Everybody who wants it is figuring out how to get it for free anyhow.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

The street value of the more than one-and-a-quarter kilograms of cocaine seized by VicPD officers was over $150,000. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police seize fentanyl, more than $150,000-worth of cocaine

Charges laid against two Victoria men in months-long investigation

Investigators seized sophisticated equipment including credit card embossers, credit card PIN machines, heavy duty printers and computers used to create fraudulent cards. (West Shore RCMP handout)
West Shore RCMP arrest two, find 1,000 pieces of stolen ID in Langford

Investigation began after fraudulent bank draft used to buy vehicle in Colwood

Police continue to investigate a break-and-enter in this Sidney jewelry store in the 2500-block of Beacon Avenue. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Thieves hit Sidney jewelry store

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP says incident is not part of a larger trend

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Victoria and Nanaimo

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 27

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Cowichan Search and Rescue set up near the Silver Bridge in Duncan on Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, 2020 to rescue a dog from the Cowichan River. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Search and Rescue save dog from icy Cowichan River

Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team was called in

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

Most Read