Flu season hits harder, starts earlier in Ottawa

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Toronto's flu season is underway but it's too soon to tell how bad it will be, says an expert

Toronto's flu season is underway but it's too soon to tell how bad it will be, says an expert

Cases of influenza are up compared with the same time last year, and Ottawa Public Health says that's because this flu season got underway a lot earlier.

As of this week, there have been 470 flu cases reported to Ottawa Public Health so far this season. At this point last season, there were 309.

"Flu season this year really began just before Christmas — so mid to late December — and it's been solid," said Dr. Robin Taylor, associate medical officer of health, adding that last season began much later in February. 

"We're seeing fewer cases come in now. But it's important to remember that the cases that we do see are really the tip of the iceberg."

There have been five deaths reported among lab-confirmed flu cases in Ottawa so far this season, according to public health. Last season saw six deaths and 504 cases in total.

While this flu season appears to have peaked already with fewer and fewer cases reported, and that "there is there is light at the end of the tunnel," Taylor warns that this year's flu can still be particularly hard-hitting.

Flu virus still circulating

"We also know that the type of flu that is circulating this year is a type that can impact the elderly and our senior population harder, and it tends to give more outbreaks. So we have seen quite a few outbreaks in long-term care facilities and places like that," she said.

As usual, people should continue to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of flu.

"There is still flu virus circulating," added Taylor. "So washing your hands well, making sure that our high-touch surfaces like our cellphones and doorknobs stay clean, staying home if you're sick, and of course coughing in your sleeve rather than onto your hand. Those are the things that we can do to protect ourselves, and it's still important to do those."

Ottawa Public Health notes other viruses are also circulating in the community, which have led to outbreaks in long-term care facilities and retirement homes. There are eight open enteric outbreaks, including norovirus, and 10 open respiratory outbreaks in those facilities.