The Yukon is seeing a spike in flu cases this season, and medical officials are encouraging Yukoners to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
As of Nov. 24, the territory had seen more than 70 cases of influenza, compared to an average of five cases by Dec. 1.
The Yukon is also seeing more severe cases of the flu, including eight hospitalizations as of Nov. 21. On average, there are seven flu-related hospitalizations in a full year.
Catherine Elliott, Yukon’s deputy chief medical officer of health, said the flu season started early this year, with cases showing up in September. Normally, the season doesn’t get underway until November or December.
The early start may explain the high number of cases, since the population was “completely unvaccinated” in September, Elliott explained. But she said it’s unclear why the Yukon is seeing so many cases, while most provinces and territories are reporting routine flu activity or none at all.
“The big picture answer is no, we don’t really know,” she said.
The flu virus making the rounds at the moment is H3N2, a strain that can cause more severe illness, especially among the elderly.
But the good news is that H3N2 is one of the four strains in this year’s flu vaccine.
“Some years, it’s not as good of a match,” Elliott said. “We’re hoping people will hear about this and get vaccinated.”
She said medical professionals aim to vaccinate about 25 to 30 per cent of the population. This year, a higher-than-usual number of infants under six months old has been vaccinated, but Elliott said she’d like to see more uptake across the population.
Children can receive the flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, while adults will receive the flu shot. The spray contains a weakened version of the virus, while the shot contains inactivated pieces of the virus. Both cause the body to produce antibodies that will fight off an active virus if the person is exposed.
“It’s a very safe vaccine — it contains strains that we’ve had in vaccines before,” Elliott said. “It prevents you from spreading the flu, but it also reduces your illness and prevents illness if you’re exposed to the flu.”
Elliott said the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu virus, but frequent hand-washing and coughing into tissues can also help.
She said normal symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, congestion, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people should just stay home if they think they have the flu, she said, but people should seek medical attention if they’re severely short of breath or if they’re feeling more unwell than they usually do with the flu.
Members of vulnerable populations — children under two, adults over 65, people with chronic conditions, those living in long-term care facilities and pregnant women, for example — should see their doctor immediately to avoid more serious complications, she said.
It’s also particularly important for vulnerable people to get the vaccine, she said, as they’ll be less likely to experience complications if they do get sick.
Elliott said that even in years when the flu vaccine isn’t as good of a match for the actual strains in the population, getting vaccinated can still reduce the severity of the virus.
And she said that people who’ve had the flu should still get vaccinated, because more than one strain can show up in a single season.
The next flu clinic in Whitehorse will be held at the Whitehorse Health Centre on Tuesday, Nov. 29 from 1 to 7 p.m. The full schedule for Whitehorse and the communities, as well as more information about the virus and the vaccine, can be found at www.yukonimmunization.ca.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org