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The ‘unusual’ flu season sees a surge in cases in May as COVID-19 measures are lifted

New Brunswick is dealing with an unusually late flu season, due in part to the lifting of COVID-19 safeguards in March, such as B. masking, says the provincial deputy health officer.

Typically, flu season really “starts” in January and “fades” once the warmer weather begins, Dr. Yves Leger.

But nearly half of this season’s cases have occurred this month, new statistics from Public Health show.

There were 18 influenza cases reported in week 18, which was May 1-7, the latest statistics available.

In this season, which began on August 29, 2021 and will last until August 27, a total of 40 cases have been documented so far.

“For it to start now is a bit, you know, unusual from the trend that we’ve seen before, but that would be explained by the lifting of the measures,” Léger said.

“As most provinces have repealed theirs [COVID-19] Taking action in the spring, we’ve started to see a resurgence in influenza across the country and we’re starting to see that in some of our surveillance here.

During the 2020-21 season, at the start of the pandemic, only one case of influenza was reported across New Brunswick.

For comparison, in 2019-20 there were 2,351 cases nationwide. 2018-19 3,008. And in 2017-18 2,721.

The numbers are probably all unreported, Léger noted. Although influenza is a reportable disease in New Brunswick, not everyone who gets sick would necessarily go to the doctor and get tested, he said.

“But it still gives us an idea of ​​how the infection is spreading in our communities and how that is evolving.”

It was once speculated that COVID-19 and the flu could emerge what some have dubbed “Twindemic” Both types of infections hit countries at the same time, but these fears have not materialized.

Instead, some medical experts say there could be some level of “viral interference,” where a virus like SARS-CoV-2 crowds out other pathogens at a population level for a period of time.

Decrease in immunity?

Last week Premier Blaine Higgs remarked to reporters that “kids appear to be more susceptible to the common viruses and flu and bugs than they were before COVID.

“So, you know, I asked the question – is there a connection here to what we would have done for the past two years with so many masking guidelines and protecting everyone because of COVID? And was there a drop in natural immunity because of that?”

The province “had no choice” regarding the COVID measures it put in place, Higgs said. “I mean, we were dealing with a higher-level threat. So we had to react accordingly.

“But I asked the question – is there a connection here?”

“Uncharted Times”

Léger claims it’s too early to know.

“I think we’re in unprecedented and unexplored times where we haven’t implemented these types of measures for such a long time,” he said.

Some experts have questioned whether there will be a resurgence of the flu and other common viruses that circulated regularly before the pandemic.

dr Yves Léger, acting deputy chief medical officer of health, said only time will tell what impact two years of COVID-19 protective measures and the subsequent lifting of those measures will have on the flu and other common viruses. (Pascal Raiche-Nogue/Radio-Canada)

Léger said he is aware of the concerns and thinks “that has some validity”.

Time will tell, he said.

“If we’re back in a place where we don’t have measures and we see, you know, over the next year, for example, an increase in influenza, then that could be telling in terms of population-level immunity and what role that played.” could have.”

No significant change in the proportion of young people

Teenagers under the age of 19 account for 43 percent of cases this season, at 17 out of 40.

But the proportion of cases in adolescents this season “is not very different” from previous seasons, Health Department spokeswoman Michelle Guenard said.

In the 2020-21 season, the province’s only case of flu occurred in a youth aged five to 19, statistics show.

In the 2019-2020 season, juveniles accounted for 47 percent of the total number of positive cases.

In the 2018-2019 season, they made up 39 percent of the total.

Continued increase expected

Léger assumes that influenza activity will continue to increase in all age cohorts in the coming weeks.

“Things always seem to start in western and central Canada before anything happens here. And we’re already seeing that this year. So I expect we’ll continue to see an increase in cases before it eventually tapers off,” he said.

Whether the number of cases will exceed the pre-COVID total is “pure speculation” at this point, Léger said.

He noted that respiratory viruses typically have a seasonal pattern – they tend to rise in late fall and winter and then fall again in spring when the weather improves and people are more and more distant outside, giving the viruses less chance to spread.

“As this surge comes at an unusual time, it’s difficult to know exactly how it will behave.”

Still, Léger said he doubts New Brunswick will see a bigger flu season than before.

Other types of infections, like the common cold, are more difficult to predict, he said, because they’re not reportable diseases, so there’s no way to know exactly how they develop.

Unlike the flu, there are no vaccines to protect against these other diseases, but people can still take steps to protect themselves and others, he said.

This includes wearing a mask indoors in crowded places, physical distancing and staying home if you are sick.

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