The holiday season was a busy one for influenza in Alberta hospitals, according to the latest update on the province’s respiratory virus dashboard.
Between Dec. 16 and 30, 2023, the dashboard added 762 hospitalizations, which included Albertans of all ages. Albertans under 90 years old were among the intensive care unit admissions that jumped by 77 in that same time period.
The cumulative 2,220 influenza hospitalizations and 248 flu ICU admissions this respiratory virus season have already surpassed last season’s.
The annual respiratory virus season usually starts near the end of August.
In the last two weeks of influenza reporting, the number of total deaths attributed to the flu nearly doubled, from 44 to 80. Those new deaths were counted among Albertans 40 and older.
H1N1 has been driving much of this early wave of flu cases.
Positivity rates and weekly lab-confirmed cases of influenza have been trending down since an early-December peak. But in past years, Alberta has seen a second, smaller wave of influenza cases creep up.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) appears to be the next virus gaining steam in the community, as positivity rates and lab-confirmed cases have been increasing since the fall.
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As of Dec. 30, 2023, there were 179 RSV patients in hospital and 12 in ICUs – the first time the respiratory virus dashboard showed RSV hospitalizations since its launch.
Provincewide, RSV positivity was at 9.2 per cent at the end of 2023, with the Calgary Zone having the highest positivity rate at 13.7 per cent.
Low vaccine uptake fuels spike in respiratory illnesses: health officials
COVID-19 continued to hospitalize and kill Albertans through the holiday season.
In the last two weeks of December 2023, 294 new hospitalizations and 20 more ICU admissions were added to the records. And 55 more COVID-attributed deaths were accounted for, all in Albertans aged 40 or older.
Throughout this respiratory virus season which started on Aug. 27, 2023, Alberta has averaged three COVID-attributed deaths a day.
Since the start of the pandemic, 6,220 Albertans have had their deaths registered as caused by the airborne vasculotropic disease.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says the use of respirators, like NIOSH-certified N95 or certified KN95, can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, guidance that matches with what aerosol scientists say about preventing airborne diseases.
Vaccination rate still low
More than a million influenza vaccine doses have gone into arms this season, but the overage coverage rate in Alberta remains among the four lowest seasons since 2010 at 23.5 per cent.
And COVID-19 vaccinations have been going out at a slower rate, despite being reformulated to target XBB subvariants. Only 16 per cent of Albertans have rolled up their sleeves to get a COVID shot this season.
On Friday, Alberta Health Services started administering the new Novavax vaccine that uses protein-based technology, rather than the mRNA technology in the Pfizer and Moderna doses.
Alberta’s immunization campaign raising questions
According to Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University, the updated XBB-targeting vaccinations should be effective against the JN.1 subvariant, which the Public Health Agency of Canada recently said is now the dominant strain in the country.
Doctors and public health authorities say it is safe to get the influenza and COVID vaccine at the same time, and pharmacists have told Global News they have ample availability and appointments.
Alberta Health says Albertans can get their COVID shots as soon as three months since their last vaccination or infection, immunizations which protect against severe disease and hospitalization.
–with files from Katie Dangerfield, Global News
© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.