Only Winnipeg region has had more flu cases than Northern Manitoba this season

Northern Manitoba has been hit hard in the 2018-19 flu season, with 130 influenza cases from Sept. 1 to Jan. 4*, second only to Winnipeg which had 210.

Northern Regional Health Authority chief medical officer of health Dr. Randy Gesell said there are a couple of possible reasons for the northern region seeing more confirmed cases.

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“Reports of positive influenza cases are dependent on who gets tested for influenza (flu), so the high number of cases in Northern Manitoba may be partially due to more testing being done in the region,” said Gesell. “We do know, however, that the main influenza virus circulating this year (H1N1) is the same virus that circulated in the 2009 pandemic, which also more severely impacted northern communities. Although the reasons for this are not completely understood, we do know that H1N1 has significant impact on children and adolescents, and northern communities typically have a high percentage of their population in these age groups. Housing density is also higher in the north, and these factors may combine to increase the rate of secondary household transmission, known to be a major pathway for spread of influenza in the community.”

As with the rest of the province, this year’s flu virus hit young people 15 and under harder, but the season seems to have peaked, though activity remains high.

“Diagnosed cases are on the decline, a bit earlier in the season than recent years,” said Gesell. “There is still influenza circulating, though, and specific communities may still experience more clusters of illness.”

Flu shots are still available by contacting the local public health unit, he said.

Nearly all of the confirmed cases of influenza in Manitoba since Sept. 1 have been influenza A, which typically is worse than flu cause by influenza B strains, though the disease from those can also be severe.

Although health care officials can’t be certain until after the flu season, it appears that this year’s vaccine was fairly effective.

“Early indicators are that the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine is better than last year,” Gesell said. “The dominant strain this year is type A, H1N1. Each year the influenza vaccine covers three strains of type A virus, and two strains of type B virus. This year’s vaccine does cover the type A virus, H1N1.”

Flu is among the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada, Gesell said, but there are other respiratory illnesses that the flu vaccine can not protect against, but covering coughs, washing hands, eating healthily and staying home when sick can help reduce their spread.

* This story has been corrected from the original version, which said Dec. 29. The Thompson Citizen apologizes for the error.

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