Flu cases in Canada are climbing, marking a potentially early start to the flu season, at the same time U.S. health officials are reporting hospitalization rates for the respiratory illness reached the highest point in a decade for this time of year.
"At the national level, influenza activity is increasing steeply," according to Canada's FluWatch report for the week ending Oct. 29.
Flu activity has crossed an epidemic threshold, with five per cent of all respiratory virus tests coming back positive. If it stays above this level and meets other criteria, the agency said it will declare an influenza epidemic nationally — something that typically happens in mid-November.
Separately on Friday, Public Health Ontario's weekly report said seasonal influenza activity has started in that province. Parts of New Brunswick also have localized flu outbreaks, one step below the highest widespread level.
Flu has also been detected in regions in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan and Alberta, according to the federal report. Alberta's weekly respiratory virus report showed another class of common cold virus, rhino-enterovirus, making up the lion's share of positive lab tests most recently.
Provinces and territories reported two influenza-associated hospitalizations and eight ICU admissions for the week.
Visits to health-care professionals for flu-like symptoms were above average but within typical levels for this time of year, Symptoms could be due to other respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
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About 54 per cent of the flu illnesses so far have been in children and teens.
The increase in flu cases in both Canada and the U.S. comes as RSV and COVID-19 infections are adding pressure to hospitals in parts of both countries.
"There's no doubt we will face some challenges this winter," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O'Connell told reporters.
The flu season in the U.S. seems to be earlier than normal but not more severe so far, she said.