Influenza, RSV, COVID: triple threat of viral respiratory illnesses in Canada

Canada continues to see an increase of influenza activity right across the country, and it is impacting young children and older adults. Alex Karpa reports.

By Alex Karpa

Canada continues to see an increase of influenza activity right across the country, and it’s putting a serious strain on hospitals and health-care workers.

According to the latest national FluWatch data, it is impacting young children and older adults especially hard.

Along with COVID-19 and RSV, hospitals across the country are struggling to keep pace with the triple wave of viral respiratory illnesses.

“It’s probably no surprise to hear about these levels of circulation,” said epidemiologist Cynthia Carr. “Everybody knows someone who is sick right now.”

Between Nov. 20 and Nov. 26, 8,226 influenza cases were reported in Canada. In contrast, there were 5,800 cases reported the week before.

The hardest hit provinces, according to the data, were P.E.I, Alberta, and British Columbia.

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Carr, based out of Winnipeg, says the dominant strain right now is called H.3.N.2. Historically, the strain is connected to cases with more severe outcomes in vulnerable people.

“When we look at our most recent Manitoba data for example, we can see that our kids account for about 15 per cent of flu cases that have been lab confirmed, but they are 25 per cent of the hospitalizations. They are quite overrepresented in terms of the percentage of cases compared to severe outcomes.”

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Around 46 per cent of the cases reported across Canada were under the age of 19, but those experiencing more serious outcomes from influenza were children under five years of age and adults 65 years of age and older.

Since the start of the influenza season in August, there have been 707 pediatric influenza-related hospitalizations and 95 ICU admissions in Canada. Children aged 2-4 and 5-9 account for more than 50 per cent of the reported pediatric hospitalizations.

“It’s very important to remember that six months and older is the eligible age for the influenza vaccine and it is very important,” said Carr. “Again, 25 per cent of people in the hospital with influenza are children.”


The report indicates the current influenza illness rates are above normal seasonal levels, including the rates for cough and fever among Canadians.

Carr says it’s important to take every precaution possible to avoid getting sick.

“Wearing a mask will offer a layer of protection. If you are sick, please stay home. If your children are sick, please keep them home because the more people that are out and about with the virus, the more we are just passing around. There is significant impact from COVID, from RSV and from influenza.”

Flu cases continue to rise in Manitoba, according to the provincial government. Respiratory viruses continue to be a major cause of children’s hospital visits. The influenza test positivity rate in Manitoba is at 21.4 per cent.

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