Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting its first cases of Influenza in almost two years, with an outbreak of 75 reported cases in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region experiences.
According to data from the Department of Health, the batch of cases are the province's first since June 2020. A total of 81 cases have been reported in recent weeks: 75 in Labrador-Grenfell Health, five in Eastern Health and one in Western Health.
For context, the province reported 708 cases of influenza during 2019 and 2020 — the last time the data needed to be shared, as no cases were reported for the past 23 months. A spokesperson for the department says weekly reporting of influenza cases will resume this week.
Dr. Joanne McGee, medical officer of health for Labrador-Grenfell Health, said Monday the province has seen a much lower prevalence of influenza with the spread of COVID-19 in the past two years. However, cases have been spotted sporadically across the country in the last month or so.
"We've had a number of confirmed cases of Influenza-A … affecting many communities in our region," said McGee. "We've been preoccupied with COVID-19, and certainly there have been very few, if any, cases of influenza. But it can be quite serious."
There are a number reasons why flu cases could be down over the course of the pandemic.
In October, Memorial University biochemistry professor Sherri Christian told CBC News measures to prevent COVID-19 like mask-wearing likely limited the spread of the flu, which also meant the flu could reeemerge as public health restrictions started to lift.
Some medical experts have also shared the concept of "viral influence": the idea that prevalent viruses like SARS-CoV-2 can keep other pathogens like the ones that cause influenza out of public circulation for a period of time.
McGee said influenza will affect different people in different ways but can be more serious for people who are immunocompromised or have respiratory conditions like asthma.
But, she added, it can be difficult to differentiate influenza from COVID-19, as they share many common symptoms.
"The symptoms you can get with COVID-19 or with influenza can be similar in terms of fever, sore throat, muscle aches and pains, fatigue," she said. "Then there are some people who have the illness with very mild symptoms and some people who have no symptoms at all."
If a person feels ill, McGee said, they should fill out the province's online COVID-19 self-assessment form to see if they qualify for a PCR test to determine if the illness is COVID-19.
"If your symptoms can be managed at home, there really is no need to present to the emergency room or your clinic to be assessed for a viral illness that probably will run its course," she said.
Flu shots are also widely available at clinics across the province, McGee said, because the number of flu shots administered has dropped during the pandemic.