COVID-19: No sign of regular flu in the province, says B.C. CDC

COVID-19 restrictions and vaccinations seem to have knocked out influenza in B.C. this winter.

Most flu viruses detected this winter have been influenza A or H3N2 — the latter being one of the strains covered by this year's vaccine.

No long-term care facility influenza outbreaks have been reported in the 2020-21 season, either. During last year’s flu season, 19 long-term care facility outbreaks were reported between October and the first week of the new year.

Non-influenza respiratory viruses (NIRV) are also down this season. Entero-/rhinoviruses (EV/RV), leading causes of upper respiratory tract infections, are the most common NIRVs this season, but positivity rates during the first week of the new year were just over five per cent, far below the five-year historical average of 17.3 per cent.

Influenza-related visits to B.C. Children’s Hospital are far below typical averages for this time of year. Just over one per cent of emergency visits to BCCH this year were for flu-like symptoms, while in a typical year between 10 and 20 per cent of emergency room visits would be for flu-like symptoms.

The pattern appears to be repeating across the country, with indicators of influenza activity remaining exceptionally low. According to FluWatch, the national flu surveillance system, only 0.01 per cent of flu tests from labs across the country came back positive over a recent two-week period, compared to 22.8 per cent during the past six years.

According to the World Health Organization, flu activity has remained low across the northern hemisphere. Despite increased levels of testing, the per cent of positive flu tests returned through Dec. 20 remained “at very low levels.”

Public health measures intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have effectively eliminated the seasonal flu this year, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

While the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in B.C., there is no sign the regular seasonal flu is circulating in the province, despite the fact that the number of flu tests submitted to labs has been notably higher than in previous years.

About 30,000 tests for the flu have been conducted in B.C. since Sept. 27, with only seven people testing positive for influenza.

However, each of those patients had received a flu vaccine, and “there remains no indication of influenza virus circulation in B.C.,” according to a B.C. CDC report Friday.

By contrast, for the same period in the past five seasons, there were an average of 7,059 tests conducted and 1,005 influenza detections per season.

In the past five years, an average of 32 per cent of flu tests returned positive results during the first week of the new year. This year there were no positive test results for flu in the first week of the year.

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