Doctors in British Columbia are warning that the province could see a bad flu season this year after the influenza virus, but disappeared last season.
Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Center, said he is watching this year carefully for a number of reasons.
The biggest factor, he said, is the difference between the current, relaxed COVID-19 protocols and the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place last winter, such as restrictions on social gatherings and travel restrictions.
“The flu spreads in a way that is similar to COVID, and since we had all these public health measures in place to prevent COVID transmission, they were even more effective at preventing influenza transmission,” he said.
“It can put the idea in people’s minds that the flu is gone because last year there was none and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Conway said he is also concerned that because there was no major flu season last year, people would not likely have the same level of antibodies against influenza they would have developed if the virus was spreading.
He added that the potential for people to contract both COVID and the flu at the same time — a condition in which doctors have little experience or evidence to respond to — is also a concern, They said.
During the 2020-2021 flu season, BC Center for Disease Control says Influenza surveillance conducted more than 90,000 tests, with only 18 showing positive results.
In comparison, over 6,600 positive results were found in the same number of tests in 2019-2020. The five-year average from 2015 to 2019 was 5,605 positive tests through flu surveillance.
No cases of flu have been diagnosed so far in the 2021-2022 season, but UBC professor and pediatrician Dr. Rainn Goldman says he expects a significant jump from last year.
“With more activity in the community, I am quite concerned that we may see a stronger impact of the flu as well as other viruses spreading in the community,” he said.
With the Delta version continuing to drive strong COVID-19 case numbers, mainly those without vaccinations, Goldman urged people to get their flu shots to avoid a potential “twinemic.”
“Influenza is, at times, a much more serious illness in young children,” Goldman said.
“So it’s really important to do everything we can to protect our kids with what we have, and have a vaccine against the flu available.”
It’s a message Conway echoed, as the COVID-19 vaccination allows most British Columbians to return to some semblance of normal life.
The implementation of the province’s vaccine passport has seen a return to indoor spectator sports, concerts and movies, and restrictions on individual gatherings have been lifted.
“Vaccination against Covid does not protect you from influenza,” Conway warned, encouraging the public to take advantage of both vaccinations.
“Last year, we were operating at about 40 percent or more of normal in terms of close interpersonal contacts – right now we’re closer to 80 percent and some people are back at 100 percent.”
BC CDC expects to provide more information about flu vaccine availability in October.