The deaths of two young Manitobans who recently passed away from complications due to influenza has sparked a larger conversation about flu vaccinations in the province.
According to Manitoba Health, only 22 per cent of Manitobans were vaccinated for influenza this season, up from the 20 per cent vaccinated the previous year.
But health officials said that number isn’t good enough to prevent larger outbreaks within the population.
Health Canada said the goal is to hit an 80 per cent immunization rate to ward off the flu, however in 2018-19, only 42 per cent of Canadians got the shot.
“Influenza, also known as the flu, is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in Canada, averaging 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year,” the federal government states on its website.
Vaccination rates throughout Manitoba vary greatly.
Only 6.5 per cent of residents in Norway House got vaccinated this season, according to the province.
Within Winnipeg itself, the numbers are significantly higher. Assiniboine South saw the highest vaccination rates in the city at 31.5 per cent, whereas only 14.9 per cent of people living in Point Douglas got the vaccine.
Recently, a 24-year-old Morden woman and a 17-year-old Winnipeg high school student died from complications related to the flu.
Joanne Ens, the woman from Morden, started feeling flu-like symptoms on Jan. 1 that only got worse over the next few days.
She was eventually airlifted to St. Boniface Hospital before dying on Jan. 6.
“The doctors are certain it started as influenza B, and it is suspected she picked up another infection while fighting that,” her husband Dustin Ens said.
Dustin told Global News that Joanne had not received the flu shot and that he feels she would still be alive if she had got one.
Blaine Ruppenthal, a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School, was rushed to St. Boniface Hospital on Jan. 7 after suffering a cardiac arrest twice. He was put into an induced coma and received hypothermic therapy but died Monday, according to the Winnipeg School Division.
Health Canada said the most commonly reported reason for receiving the vaccine was to prevent infection or avoid getting sick (45 per cent), while the most common reason for non-vaccination was the perception that the vaccine was not necessary (20 per cent).
Flu shots are free and are offered at most pharmacies, walk-in clinics and doctor’s offices.
What to Know about a 'Double-Barreled Flu Season' – Healthline
- Two flu strains are overlapping each other this flu season.
- This means you can get sick twice from different flu strains.
- While the flu vaccine isn’t a perfect match, it’s the best defense against the flu.
To say this flu season has been abnormal is an understatement.
For one, the flu season got its earliest start in 16 years.
Up to 18 million people have gotten the flu this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest estimates. Up to 210,000 people have been hospitalized and thousands have died, including 39 children.
We’re also seeing B strains of the flu dominate, something that hasn’t happened in the United States in nearly 30 years.
And, unfortunately, the vaccine missed the mark with B/Victoria, the most common strain we’re seeing this year. The CDC believes the shot only covers about 58 percent of B-linked cases.
Now, halfway through flu season, A strains are picking up, increasing the odds we’ll have a “double-barreled flu season,” in which two strains strike back to back — a pattern health experts say is extremely rare.
Between the early start, rise in B strains, and recent spike in A-strain illnesses, this flu season officially has infectious disease experts stumped.
“This season has turned a lot of [what we know about flu] on its head,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “There’s a lot we know, and even more we don’t know about flu.”
A double-barreled flu season occurs when two flu outbreaks overlap one another, a pattern which is very unusual, according to flu experts.
Last year, for example, we saw A/H1N1 infections peak early, followed by another wave of A/H3N2 infections.
Though the predominant strains are different this year, we’re seeing the same pattern play out: Activity took off with B/Victoria and now that second wave of A/H1N1 is coming for us, according to Schaffner.
“Around the country, my colleagues and I are seeing H1N1 come up strong, and it’s now about 50-50 [with B/Victoria],” Schaffner told Healthline.
The most worrisome part of a double-barreled flu season is that you can get sick twice.
Just because you caught a B-strain flu doesn’t mean that you’re immune from the A strains.
“There will be the rare person who gets two flu infections in the same season — one with B and one with H1N1,” Schaffner said.
Though there will be some protection within each strain — in that contracting an A strain will protect you against other A strains, and B strains will protect against other B’s — there’s not much cross protection.
A double-barreled season also means we’re more likely to see a prolonged influenza season.
The fact that B strains are predominating this year isn’t just confusing, it’s concerning as well.
B strains haven’t hit this hard for nearly 30 years, since during the 1992–1993 season, the CDC told Healthline.
This means that many people — especially kids — have never been exposed to the strain, and consequently, don’t have residual immunity against it.
“When there’s a rarity, it actually sets you up for another bigger push to get it, because at that point, we really don’t have anybody with any strong immunity going around, so we’re all potential vessels for getting exposed and transmitting it,” Moore said.
This is one of the reasons kids are being hit harder this year. They’ve never been exposed to this type of the flu — it’s their first go around.
“These kids are just brand new to getting flu B,” Moore said.
And because we haven’t seen much of the B/Victoria strain in the past few years, this year’s vaccine missed the mark.
“We thought initially the match was perfect, but it’s not. It’s off a little bit, and that means in many populations the vaccine is not going to function optimally,” Schaffner explained.
Fortunately, the vaccine covers H1N1 well. According to Schaffner, the match to H1N1 is right on.
And because A strains circulate every year, most people have built up at least some “immune memory” to it — despite the fact these strains change and mutate each year.
“Our past experience with influenza viruses does give us some residual protection that lasts,” Schaffner said.
“It’s not too late,” Moore said about the vaccine, noting that we still don’t know for sure what’s going to happen next.
If flu A continues to get worse, as predicted, the flu shot will protect you through the rest of the season.
And even though the vaccine isn’t a perfect match to B strains, it can still help lessen the severity of the flu.
“If you’ve been vaccinated, and even if there is a mismatch, you are likely to have a less severe infection when you get it,” Schaffner said.
Remember: By getting immunized, you’re not only protecting yourself, but others as well who may be more at risk for developing severe complications — like the elderly, pregnant women, children under 2, and immunosuppressed people.
“When we protect ourselves, we are really protecting those around us,” Moore said.
Health experts say this has been an extremely unusual flu season. It started very early with a strain that we typically don’t see much of. Now, another strain is building momentum and creating a path for what’s known as a double-barreled flu season, in which two types of flu strike back to back. With a second wave coming, flu experts say it’s not too late to get vaccinated before things pick up again.
China reports new virus cases, raising concern globally before key holiday – CNBC
Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020.
China reported four more cases of pneumonia believed to be caused by a new coronavirus strain, causing rising concern globally that a disease health officials do not yet fully understand could spread during a key holiday period.
The new virus, which was discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, belongs in the same large family of coronaviruses that includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Though experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as SARS, there is little known about its origins and how easily it can spread. Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus earlier this week, stoking worries globally as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holidays that begin next week.
Authorities around the world including in the United States, Thailand and South Korea have stepped up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan as part of their efforts to prevent the disease from spreading.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that a wider outbreak is possible, though it has advised against any travel restrictions for China.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission (WMHC) said on Saturday the four new individuals diagnosed with the new virus are in stable condition, adding it has confirmed 45 cases in the city as of Thursday. A day earlier, the commission confirmed the death of a second patient.
Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either live in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.
A report published by the London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there are likely “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently announced by Wuhan authorities: its base scenario estimate is that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by Jan. 12.
The WMHC referred Reuters queries about the report to the National Health Commission (NHC) and the Hubei provincial government, but the NHC and the Hubei government did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province.
U.S. authorities have said they would start screening at three airports to detect travellers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan who may have symptoms of the new virus.
In Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have stepped up monitoring of passengers from Wuhan at airports. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines say they have strengthened screening at all points of entry in response to the outbreak, as well.
But Alexandra Phelan, global health legal expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, said such screening may be insufficient in preventing the virus from spreading as its symptoms, which include fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, are “quite general”.
“There are likely to be many individuals with matching symptoms due to an illness that is not 2019-nCoV,” Phelan said, referring to the new virus.
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