The death of Cynthia Thibaudeau of Gatineau last week left her family completely stunned. The 39-year-old woman looked healthy before catching the flu, which won in a few days. Is the flu more dangerous this year than it was 15 years ago?
“No.” This is what health officials say on both sides of the Ottawa River.
But the particularity this year is that influenza cases appeared much earlier than expected, in December. In addition, the season, which usually lasts about a month, stretches this winter. In addition, cases of influenza type B arrived first, whereas they usually appear at the end of the season.
“As early as mid-December, we began seeing cases of influenza B,” says Dr. Carole McConnery, Medical Officer at the Outaouais Public Health Branch (DSPO).
“Usually influenza B comes in second: we start with the A and we finish with the B. This year, everywhere in Quebec, we started with the B, we had the A and there is half and half A and B, “says Dr. McConnery.
In Ottawa, the same story, but with precise figures.
So far, we have 233 cases [of influenza type B], which we had at this time last year.
Dr. Geneviève Cadieux, Assistant Physician in Public Health, Ottawa Public Health (OPH).
The OPS reports that there have been 366 cases of Type A flu this year, down slightly from last year, when there were 374.
What is the difference between these two types? The explanations vary. Some say there are not really. Others argue that influenza B affects children much more and responds better to vaccines developed every year against influenza.
“Influenza B, according to the studies, seems to affect more children and that’s the main difference,” says Dr. Cadieux. “But, also, it is more difficult to get a good match between the vaccine and the virus type A, than with type B.”
Dr. Marcel Guilbault, president of the Association of General Practitioners of Western Quebec (AMOOQ), confirms that influenza has hit many young people.
With no appointment, we saw that of all ages, as many children with flu symptoms, sick, young adults who said they had never done that, a flu like that.
Dr. Marcel Guilbault, President, AMOOQ
And what about the effectiveness of the vaccine?
According to Dr. Cadieux, the effectiveness of the vaccine this year, for type A (H3N2) is only 17%, while it would be 55% for type B.
The flu virus seems at first sight more virulent this year. However, the experts refute this perception.
“I think this year is the number of cases that is really exceptional. If we follow the curves of the flu, it seems that there is no lull, we have really twice, three times more cases than in past years, “says Dr. Guilbault.
Dr. McConnery of the DSPO adds that what does not help is the presence of other viruses and bacteria.
“When there is a death, often it is complications, sometimes it is a superinfection, because sometimes when one is sick one can be in contact with another bacterium and there are deaths every year of the year. ‘Influenza,’ she explains.
In Ottawa this year, of 599 confirmed influenza cases, there were 25 deaths. At this time last year, Ottawa Public Health reported that there were 22 deaths.
In Outaouais, the DSPO states that there are 840 confirmed cases of influenza on February 20th. But we can not say the number of deaths related to influenza. And the season is far from over.
“We’re seeing a rise in positive tests for the flu now, when we thought the flu season was over,” says Dr. Cadieux.