The flu is at “peak levels” across Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
There are signs the numbers are levelling after an unusually harsh flu season with increased deaths, a spike in children needing emergency medical care, and “widespread” infection throughout British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
Roughly half of the nearly 35,000 cases have been among senior citizens, but the proportion of children hospitalized is increasing, to well over 500 across Canada.
That is largely due to a spike in influenza B, which generally affects children, to “well above expected levels for this time of year,” according to the national health watchdog’s latest numbers.
That strain is also responsible for the deaths of two children in Guelph, Ont., and three others elsewhere.
More than 3,000 people have been hospitalized for flu across Canada this winter, of whom 500 were children, and 285 required intensive care. There have been 130 deaths.
Laboratory detections of influenza B were at similar levels with influenza A, and both were implicated in institutional outbreaks, such as in retirement homes or schools.
One of the worst hit areas was Ottawa, where 15 people are confirmed to have died from the flu, with the true number likely much higher, according to local officials.
Guelph was struck especially hard, as news came in the same week that two children from Westminster Woods Public School had died. Layna Vu Pollard, aged 12, was a grade 7 student, and Boyqara Dahi, 7, was in grade 2.
Both had the influenza B strain, but the two deaths are not thought to be connected, according to Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. Dahi was also ill with cerebral palsy.
That episode prompted local health officials to open a vaccination clinic for two days, even though it is late in the season. This year’s version of the flu vaccine, which is prepared months in advance, is turning out to be less effective than usual, especially against the H3N2 strain of influenza A.
Across the country, nearly all influenza A cases were of the H3N2 strain, most subtypes of which contain genes from human, swine and bird flu lineages.
Only about one in 20 Canadian flu cases were of the H1N1 subtype, which has been associated with some of the worst flu outbreaks in history, including the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the 1918 Spanish Flu.
The World Health Organization reported that overall influenza activity remained high across North America, with most cases due to the influenza A(H3N2) strain.
The United States is reporting one doctor visit in 13 is due to the flu, the highest such level since the swine flu pandemic of 2009. One out of every 10 deaths in the last week was due to flu, more than 4000 in total.
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