Number of flu cases rise as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted

·2 min read
Many of the flu cases on P.E.I. have been children. (Camelialy/Shutterstock - image credit)
Many of the flu cases on P.E.I. have been children. (Camelialy/Shutterstock - image credit)

The number of Islanders with the flu is rising, and it's no coincidence it comes at a time when COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, health officials say.

There have been 37 lab-confirmed cases of influenza on P.E.I. this year, all after April. Eight were in hospital, including one in ICU. Last year, P.E.I. had no lab-confirmed cases of the flu.

The actual case numbers are just an indication of how the flu is now spreading, since many people don't see a doctor if they get sick, said Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer.

"I think it speaks to the fact that we will be seeing certainly other viruses circulating, not just now, but it will happen in the fall and next winter as well. And it's linked to changes across the country and as well regarding our public health measures."

Rising numbers across country

The rising numbers are similar to what is happening across the country.

Many of the cases on P.E.I. have been children. The median age is about 12.

Though most of the province's COVID-19 restrictions have now ended, Morrison believes many Islanders have learned lessons that will stick with them after the pandemic ends.

"I think we're all learning a lot about the importance of these infection prevention control measures. I mean, we've been talking for many years about staying home when you're sick, washing your hands and also masking."

More people are returning to pre-pandemic activities and gatherings across the country.

Competing viruses

But Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist from Toronto, said there are other reasons for a surge in flu numbers, as well.

"Respiratory viruses compete with each other. There's many more than just influenza and COVID. In the last two years, clearly, COVID has had a massive advantage. And the interesting thing that you see in places that didn't do any masking or physical distancing, such as Florida, you saw low cases there as well. And this was a very consistent pattern around the world."

That push and pull between COVID-19 and influenza will need to be studied in the years to come, Chakrabarti said.

He added that a certain amount of exposure to illnesses like the flu is actually healthy, especially for children.

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