‘Unusual’ influenza outbreak on decline in B.C., COVID-19 stable despite new variant

'Unusual' influenza outbreak on decline in B.C., COVID-19 stable despite new variant
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks during a COVID-19 update at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, March 10, 2022.

The influenza outbreak that resulted in the deaths of six young people in British Columbia last month is on the decline, but the provincial health officer says the flu season is far from over.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there have been no reported deaths of young people since last month when the province experienced an unusual spike of flu-rated cases during November and December.

She says the flu season, which includes influenza A, influenza B and respiratory syncytial virus, usually runs from December to March, but it hit young people early and hard this year, likely due to their lack of immunity after two years of COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Henry says there were 661 new cases of COVID-19 reported over the past week, including 24 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant XBB 1.5.

However, she says the numbers of people in hospital for COVID-19 and flu-related illnesses are declining, a factor connected to those who received a COVID-19 booster vaccine and flu shot.

Henry says she expects any surge in flu this spring will be less severe than last month when hospitals and emergency rooms were overflowing with patients.

This update comes one week after the province announced it would reopen 20 hospital emergency operations centres originally set up to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in anticipation of a surge in respiratory illnesses.

The centres opened on Jan. 9 to provide a coordinated response during the high-demand period and will remain open for at least six weeks.

They are at 20 hospitals across the province, including Vancouver General, Abbotsford Regional, Royal Columbian in Kamloops, and on the Island, Victoria General, Royal Jubilee and Nanaimo General.

READ MORE: B.C. to reopen emergency centres once used for COVID surge amid nasty flu season

Pharmacists across the country are also dealing with a cold and flu medication shortage.

Pharmacists say the bare shelves suggest there are vulnerabilities in Canada’s drug supply system.

“I think this is a bit of a wake-up call,” Joelle Walker, vice president of public and professional affairs at the Canadian Pharmacists Association told The Canadian Press. “I’m not sure we ever expected an over-the-counter medication to be (in) quite such tight supply.”

But despite the extraordinary demand, these aren’t Canada’s first drug shortages, she said — and they reveal a deeper problem with how the country manages its drug supply.

READ MORE: Cold and flu medication shortage across Canada is a ‘wake-up call,’ pharmacists say

“Time and time again … we have a shortage that happens. We all scramble to deal with it and then we sort of move on,” Walker said.

“What we’d like to see is a more comprehensive action plan to deal with preventing shortages from happening.”

“Part of this is creating an environment where not only are manufacturers willing to invest in domestic production here, but are willing to bring their products to the (Canadian) market,” she said.

Watch the full news conference here:

-With files from CHEK’s Jeff Lawrence and The Canadian Press

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