While Canada struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, other respiratory illnesses, like colds and the flu, are down this season — and in Newfoundland and Labrador, not a single lab-confirmed case of influenza has been recorded so far this year.
Other respiratory infections are down in the province as well, with physicians seeing far fewer than normal, with notable decreases in long-term care facilities, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said influenza infections are down significantly across the country, with no evidence of community spread.
"Normally this time of year we have on average about 18,000 cases of influenza reported," said Fitzgerald. "I think at this point, it's just over 50 cases that we've had across the country."
Normally, N.L. sees a peak in flu cases in late January and another one in the spring, said Fitzgerald, but the lack of cold and flu infections this year is due in part to the public health measures put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.
"Increased handwashing, physical distancing, wearing masks: all that will stop the spread of respiratory droplets, which is part of the way that influenza spreads as well," she said.
Another factor is the steep drop in travel to the province.
"[The flu] sort of spreads from elsewhere to Canada, and then generally spreads west to east," Fitzgerald said. "We're not seeing that same amount of travel, so we're not seeing the flu coming into our country either."
40% of N.L. residents have had flu vaccine
In September, provincial Health Minister John Haggie announced plans to increase the number of people receiving the flu shot, setting a goal of vaccinating 80 per cent of residents. While a little over 40 per cent have gotten their flu shot so far, it's still the biggest turnout in the province on record, he said.
"We've done better this year than we've ever done before," Fitzgerald. "We've vaccinated more people than ever before, just over 230,000 so far."
Fitzgerald said it's not too late for residents to get a flu shot, because even though the province has had zero cases, and community spread is low nationally, an outbreak could still be dangerous.
"Flu can still spread once it gets in and it takes hold, it can still spread very easily from person to person," she said.
"The concern of course is that you'll have a flu outbreak, or increased flu cases, as well as COVID cases, and for the individual, you run the risk of being infected with flu and COVID at the same time. Getting the flu shot will protect against that, so it's always a good idea."
According to provincial figures, Newfoundland and Labrador had 1,033 cases in the 2018-19 flu season, and 708 in the 2019-20 season.