Canada’s chief public health officer says more children are being hospitalized this flu season because of an early spike in a strain of influenza B, which hits young people hard and is circulating across the country while a strain that typically targets the elderly also makes the rounds.
Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later and the “double dose” of both influenza A and B strains has not been seen in Canada since 2015.
“Right now we have influenza A-H3N2, which is still predominant, but influenza A, another strain, H1N1, is escalating and influenza B is early so all of this is going on at the same time, which is certainly having an impact on different communities and individuals.”
Seniors are typically sickened by H3N2, Tam said, adding she does not yet know which strains were believed to have been linked to the deaths of two young people in Manitoba.
Blaine Ruppenthal, 17, is suspected of having died of complications from the flu, according to a letter sent to parents Monday by the principal of Kelvin High School in Winnipeg.
A spokeswoman for the provincial government cited privacy laws in declining comment on whether Ruppenthal had any pre-existing medical conditions.
Tam said the death of a 24-year-old patient in Manitoba is also believed to have occurred from similar issues.
Lab tests will be done to determine if the two cases were linked to the virus, the provincial government said in a statement.
Two other people, both over 80, have died in Manitoba from flu-related illness this season, the statement says.
“The flu is impacting younger people more this season than in previous years. Almost 200 influenza B cases are reported to date and almost all were below the age of 50. The influenza A cases reported to date are very low for this time of a season with more than half below the age of 50.”
Manitoba is urging all residents to get the flu shot, which it offers for free.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said two deaths believed to be related to flu were also reported in New Brunswick this year.
The latest report from FluWatch, the agency’s surveillance program of influenza cases, says 258 children in Canada, aged 16 and under, were hospitalized over a three-week period ending Jan. 4.
“The weekly number of cases in this period is above the average over the previous five seasons,” it says.
Alison Merton, director of Collingwood Neighbourhood House, which operates over two dozen child-care programs in Vancouver for infants to school-aged kids, said more children have been sick with the flu than in the past few seasons.
The program can’t require parents to get any immunizations for their children but she said not having the flu vaccine can impact families.
“We have siblings in different programs so typically if one family goes down it does affect multiple programs,” Merton said.
Flumist, a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine, is often given to children but a global shortage means it has not been available in Canada, Tam said, adding the vaccine is an alternative for anyone over the age of six months and pregnant women who get it also protect their babies.
She said that while the vaccine is the best defence against flu, only about 43 per cent of Canadians under age 65 were immunized last year, even if they were at risk of complications, compared with 70 per cent of seniors.
“What I’m more concerned about is that people with some chronic medication conditions, such as underlying heart disease or diabetes, are not getting vaccinated.”
Isobel Mackenzie, the advocate for seniors in British Columbia, said over 80 per cent of seniors in long-term care facilities, where the flu shot is offered, get immunized and 74 per cent of staff do, too.
“Where we need to do the work is in the public,” she said, adding people who visit the elderly in care homes are putting them at risk if they aren’t vaccinated.
“To protect grandma from getting the flu it’s actually more effective for you to get your flu shot,” she said.
Unlike most other provinces, B.C. does not provide the flu shot for free, except to people 65 and over, under 19 or if they fit into a broad category, such as if they tend to be around vulnerable people including children and the elderly.
“So why don’t we just say everybody can get it for free?” Mackenzie said. “Everybody who wants it is figuring out how to get it for free anyhow.”
So far this season, there have been over 90 confirmed cases of influenza in Waterloo Region.
Story by Camille Bains, The Canadian Press – with file from KitchenerToday.com
Interior Health begins rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 – radionl.com
Kamloops children between the age of five and 11 will now be able to get their COVID-19 vaccine starting this week, as the province begins rolling out the vaccine to people under the age of 12.
Parents and guardians are being encouraged to register their children for the vaccine – either online or by phone at 1‑833‑838‑2323 – if they haven’t done so already. Children can be registered on or after their fifth birthday.
“We’re launching the next phase of our immunization campaign by now offering the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to children,” Interior Health interim chief medical health officer, Dr. Sue Pollock, said. “This vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 in children, which means less disruption to school and the activities children and their families enjoy.”
The lead of B.C.’s vaccine rollout, Dr. Penny Ballem, says about 365,000 children in B.C. are now eligible for the vaccine.
“This is a specially-formulated vaccine for children. The real advantage that we have, particularly in view of the last weather event, is that it’s stable at 4 C for a long period of time, 10 weeks which is a very different situation from the other vaccines we’ve been dealing with,” she said.
“Eleven year-olds will receive the pediatric vaccination. After their 12th birthday, they will be eligible for the adult dose. And if a child is 11, receives the pediatric vaccination for their first dose, and then they turn 12 within the eight-week timeframe, they will get the adult dose for their second dose.”
Similar to how it was with adults, people who have registered for the vaccine will be told by text or email when it is time to book an appointment.
“Immunizing children brings additional protection to everyone in your family,” added pediatrician Dr. Shannon Wires, in a statement. “The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has gone through a rigorous review and approval process. It provides excellent protection and I recommend parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.”
For more information on registering and booking appointments with your children, go here.
For a list of all Interior Health COVID-19 immunization clinics and other resources, go here.
– With files from Colton Davies
Celltrion signs COVID-19 antibody therapy supply deals with Europe
South Korean biotech company Celltrion’s distribution arm has signed supply deals for its monoclonal antibody to treat COVID-19 with nine European countries, Celltrion Healthcare said on Tuesday.
The European Commission earlier this month approved the company’s antibody therapy Regkirona, granting marketing authorisation for adults with COVID-19 who are at increased risk of progressing to a severe condition.
The first batch of 50,000 doses will be shipped to Europe this year and the company is in talks with 47 other nations including in Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East, Celltrion said in a statement.
The antibody treatment was initially approved in South Korea and has been administered to around 25,000 local COVID-19 patients as of last week.
Laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies in fighting off infections. Unlike vaccines, they do not rely on the body to create an immune response, and can therefore help individuals with weak or compromised immune systems.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Richard Pullin)
What you need to know about the coronavirus right now
Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
Hong Kong expands travel curbs, Australia reports 5 cases
Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia’s cabinet will review containment steps on Tuesday after five tested positive.
Omicron – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organization (WHO) said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic. In Australia, the five travellers with Omicron are all vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials said, adding they are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.
Vaccine makers start work on Omicron-tailored shots
BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing shots are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said on Monday.
A top South African infectious disease expert said Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, including to people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection.
China’s Xi pledges another 1 bln vaccine doses for Africa
China will deliver another 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa and encourage Chinese companies to invest no less than $10 billion in the continent over the next three years, President Xi Jinping said on Monday.
China’s imports from Africa, one of its key sources of crude oil and minerals, will reach $300 billion in the next three years, Xi said, adding that the two sides would cooperate in areas such as health, digital innovation, trade promotion and green development.
Coronavirus reinfections rarely severe
Reinfections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are rarely severe, new findings suggest. Researchers in Qatar compared 1,304 individuals with a second SARS-CoV-2 infection against 6,520 people infected with the virus for the first time. Reinfected patients were 90% less likely to be hospitalised compared to patients infected for the first time, and no one in the study with a second infection required intensive care or died from COVID-19, said Dr. Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar in Doha.
“Nearly all reinfections were mild, perhaps because of immune memory that prevented deterioration of the infection to more severe outcomes,” he said. It is not clear how long immune protection against severe reinfection would last, the researchers noted. If it does last for a long time, they speculate, it might mean that as the coronavirus becomes endemic, infections could become “more benign.”
Experimental smartwatch COVID-19 detection improving
Smartwatch alerting systems for early detection of COVID-19 infection are coming closer to reality, researchers reported on Monday in Nature Medicine. They tested their new system, developed with open-source software, in 2,155 wearers of Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin watches or other devices. Ultimately, 84 of the volunteers were diagnosed with coronavirus infections – including 14 of 18 people without symptoms.
Overall, the researchers’ algorithms generated alerts in 67 (80%) of the infected individuals, on average three days before symptoms began. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that asymptomatic detection has been shown for COVID-19,” they said. Presently, the system mainly depends on measurements of wearers’ resting heart rate, said study leader Michael Snyder of Stanford University School of Medicine in California. When watches can report other health data such as heart rate variability, respiration rate, skin temperature, and oxygen levels, it will become easier to distinguish the COVID-19 cases from other non-COVID-19 events, researchers said.
(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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