The tricky question of whether flu season has peaked

'We're still seeing high numbers of patients presenting themselves to emergency with the flu'

Toronto Western Hospital
A woman visits the emergency room at Toronto Western Hospital on Jan. 25, 2019.  Isabel Terrell/Toronto Observer

While this year’s flu enters its mid-season, medical professionals are debating whether the unpredictable illness has reached its peak.

The federal government’s most recent FluWatch report indicates a sharp decline in lab-confirmed cases of the virus. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, that means flu season is on the decline.

But Dr. Cristina Pastia, an emergency medicine physician at Michael Garron Hospital, says discussions around the flu aren’t black or white.

“You’d certainly have to look at the number of people who actually get tested,” said Pastia in an interview. Not only is the flu often treated at home, she added, but patients who do seek medical assistance may be diagnosed without lab testing, which wouldn’t be counted in the FluWatch numbers.

The percentage of people with the flu who end up going to the hospital are referred to as “known unknowns,” said Maryse Durette, public affairs officer for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. This year’s flu peak can’t be confirmed until the end of the season, she said.

According to the most recent Ontario Respiratory Pathogen Bulletin, which breaks down the stats of current airborne illnesses week-by-week, nearly 2,000 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of January. H1N1 is the prominent strain throughout both the province and country this year.

“We’re still seeing high numbers of patients presenting themselves to emergency with the flu,” said Pastia. “We’re finding ourselves in the middle.”

The lab-confirmed cases in Ontario were significantly lower, according to the latest bulletin, but the levels reported by public-health units were higher.

Seniors, children and pregnant women are most vulnerable to serious complications from the virus, according to Toronto Public Health. As stated on the 2018-19 prevention information page, the flu vaccine is the most effective way to ward off getting sick.

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Posted: Jan 31 2019 10:37 am
Filed under: News Science & Health