Flu rising sharply in Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam says

Flu is rising sharply in Canada as another respiratory virus that was hitting young children starts to decline, Canada’s chief public health officer says.

Dr. Theresa Tam told a briefing in Ottawa on Friday that since last week’s update, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity has levelled off somewhat and is likely to stay elevated for weeks.

“At present, influenza is showing a steep rise in activity with most surveillance indicators increasing and all trending above expected levels for this time of the year,” Tam said.

Both RSV and flu are thought to be more prevalent after more than two years of precautions, such as physical distancing and masking during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, were lifted.

“We actually had very few reports of influenza in the last two-plus years, so I think that’s partly the driver,” Tam said. Flu is increasing more sharply than “what we’ve seen in most of any past season that I’m aware of.”

Children’s medication on the way

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also said on Friday that an extra 500,000 units of kids’ pain relievers imported from Australia is expected over the next few weeks for hospital pharmacies.

That’s on top of a previously announced one million units of the medications, sold under the brand names Tylenol and Advil, arriving now on shelves of community pharmacies, he said.

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“In some places, the shelves already show those units received,” Duclos told reporters. “We expect that in the next week the availability of those doses will be quite clear in shelves across community pharmacies across the country.”

Domestic production of pain relievers for young children is also up to meet increased demand, Duclos said.

Children’s hospitals overwhelmed

Children’s hospitals across the country have been slammed with admissions from a mix of RSV, influenza and COVID-19, which is also contributing to staffing shortages, long waits in emergency departments and for beds, and the cancellation of scheduled surgeries in some places.

As families make holiday plans, Tam reminded people that flu vaccines are available across the country for those six months and older.

Habits such as handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and wearing a mask reduce the likelihood of getting a respiratory virus such as flu, RSV and the virus that causes COVID-19. Health officials say this is particularly important given the extremely stretched health system, including pediatric hospitals.

On Friday, Quebec announced it will expand free flu vaccines for all. Until now, it was the only Canadian province that did not regularly offer the vaccine free of charge to all its residents.

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