Alberta’s influenza hospitalizations almost triple as flu season intensifies

The number of Albertans with a severe case of influenza nearly tripled last week – and a large number of those impacted are under the age of 20.

The province added more than 500 cases between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, with 146 of those resulting in hospitalization.

That’s a dramatic increase from the week before, when just 50 Albertans needed medical attention.

Young children and teenagers make up a large portion of the uptick.

Sixty-two of the 142 people currently hospitalized are under 20 years old, or 42 per cent.

“There are a lot of absent kids from classrooms right now,” said Medeana Moussa with Support Our Students Alberta.

“And when we see these large absentee numbers, it means teachers have to work overtime and students fall behind. When those sick students come back into the classroom, there’s catch-up work to be done.”

In the 2021-22 flu season, a similar number of total influenza cases had not been reached until the end of April.

That could be a grim sign of the pattern to expect as autumn and winter progress.

“We’ve personally had our kids home sick throughout the fall season, and that’s left a lot of families (like us) scrambling,” Moussa said.

“I think we’ve gotten used to it over the last four years, but we shouldn’t be.”

Some believe the increase could be a side effect of the pandemic health measures.

“Because there has not been circulation of many of these viruses during the pandemic – it shut down most respiratory viruses when there was all the precautions in place – there’s a lot less partially immune people,” infectious disease specialist Lynora Saxinger said.

“And so when things get re-introduced, they’re really getting off to a roaring start. We saw that with RSV, now we’re seeing it with influenza.”

The good news? By now, we should be familiar with ways to help our bodies cope.

“Get the flu shot,” Saxinger said.

“You can even get that in one arm and a COVID-19 vaccine in the other.”

Roughly 15 per cent of Albertans have received a flu immunization.

That’s a decrease from last year.

“Influenza is not a cold,” Saxinger added.

“It’s a severe illness for some, and it’s a miserable illness for many.” 

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