533 new cases of RSV confirmed in N.B., more than last season's total

Symptoms of RSV often begin two to eight days after exposure and can include coughing, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, fever, and a decrease in appetite and energy, according to Health Canada. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press - image credit)
Symptoms of RSV often begin two to eight days after exposure and can include coughing, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, fever, and a decrease in appetite and energy, according to Health Canada. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press - image credit)

More than 500 New Brunswickers have been diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, within three recent weeks, according to the latest figures posted by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

That's more than the 371 cases confirmed all of last season, the website shows.

The number of lab-confirmed cases of RSV in the province, as of Jan. 7, is 1,186. That's up from 653 as of Dec. 17 — nearly a 60 per cent jump.

The actual number is likely much higher since many people probably just stay home and don't get tested.

In 2018-19, pre-pandemic, the seasonal total was 1,237.

RSV is a common respiratory virus most children contract by the age of two. It usually causes a mild illness with cold-like symptoms, but can be "an important cause of morbidity and mortality in infants, young children and the elderly," according to Health Canada.

Of the 533 new confirmed cases, almost 40 per cent — 212 — were confirmed during the most recent week, ending Jan. 7.

No data on deaths, hospitalizations

The federal website does not provide any information about deaths or hospitalizations.

New Brunswick's Department of Health has said the regional health networks "may have" that information.

Unlike some other jurisdictions, RSV is not a reportable disease in New Brunswick, which means the province does not monitor and report on RSV cases in the same ways that it does for COVID-19 and the flu.

In November, Dr. Yves Léger, the acting chief medical officer of health, said Public Health would look at the list of reportable diseases in the "near future" to determine if RSV should be added. Right now, the province simply inputs weekly RSV lab results into the national respiratory virus detection surveillance system.

Horizon and Vitalité did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for information about RSV deaths and hospitalizations, including if and how many involve infants, children or youths.

Deadliest flu season in a decade

The RSV update comes as New Brunswick is facing the deadliest influenza season it has seen in at least a decade.

Twelve more New Brunswickers died from the flu during the first week of January, raising the death toll so far this season to 59, according to the latest influenza report.

Data on the Public Health website dating back to 2013-14 shows until now, the highest number of deaths was 50 in 2017-18.

The 2022-23 season, which began Aug. 28, continues into the summer.

"It's well documented that influenza is an illness that can lead to death, particularly for those in vulnerable age groups, or who have other chronic health conditions, or who may be immunocompromised," said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.

"This is why the Province of New Brunswick offers flu vaccines to its entire population free-of-charge, including high-dose vaccines for all individuals 65 years of age or older," he said in an emailed statement.

2 children under 10 hospitalized for flu

None of the latest flu deaths involved infants, children or youths, said Bowie.

Of the 30 people who were admitted to hospital because of the flu between Jan. 1 and Jan. 7, two were children under 10, he said.

There were 108 new cases of the flu confirmed by a lab that week.

Influenza activity has been decreasing for the past five weeks, according to Bowie. "This trend is expected to continue," he said.

About 60,000 fewer get flu shot

Nearly 60,000 fewer New Brunswickers have gotten their flu shot, compared to the same time last year, despite warnings about a more severe season, following the lifting of COVID-19 measures.

A total of 229,893 influenza vaccines had been administered, as of Jan.16, according to the Department of Health.

That's down from 288,754, as of Jan. 15, 2022 — roughly 23 per cent fewer.

"It's important to note the administration of influenza vaccines started about a week earlier in 2021 than they did in 2022," said Bowie.

In addition, "there have been some process changes around the data reporting for pharmacies and primary care providers that may be causing a slight lag in the reporting process," he said.

Of the shots administered to date, the age breakdown includes:

  • 6 months to 8 years — 11,254.

  • 9-18 years — 10,121.

  • 19-64 years — 99,561.

  • 65 years and older — 108,958.

Indoor masking recommended

Earlier this week, Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health, recommended people wear a mask in indoor public places.

He described the province's recent respiratory virus numbers as "a bit of a mixed bag."

RSV activity continues to increase, flu activity is trending downward and Public Health is keeping an eye on COVID-19 activity as new cases fluctuate.

On Tuesday, New Brunswick reported 13 more deaths from COVID-19.

Fourteen people were newly admitted to hospital because of the virus, two of whom required intensive care.

The two regional health authorities say there are 107 New Brunswickers currently hospitalized either for or with COVID, as of Saturday, including one who requires intensive care.

There were 555 new cases of COVID-19 reported, including 433 confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test, and 122 people who self-reported testing positive on a rapid test.