With fewer COVID restrictions in place, the flu virus is spreading once again, according to a Toronto health official.
Unlike last year when Toronto residents were locked down, many restrictions have been eliminated, giving people more freedom to mingle and spread influenza.
“There was absolutely a significant drop because of the pandemic. It didn’t go away, but it didn’t have the chance to spread,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, of Toronto Public Health.
“This year is hard to predict. It’s always hard to predict,” she added. “There are not the rigorous measures as last year when we go out and about, and we are already seeing it spreading.”
Dubey added city health officials last year recorded less than 100 cases compared to an average of roughly 51,000 cases annually.
Health organizations in Canada typically look to the Southern Hemisphere for an indication of what the upcoming flu season will look like.
“This year Australia and New Zealand haven’t had much, but they have been in lockdown,” Dubey noted. “We couldn’t have the flu and COVID spreading together. We have to be mindful of the strain we put on the health-care system.”
Dubey advised that it is safe to get a flu shot after receiving a COVID vaccine.
“Parents need to get their kids the shot. Influenza in young children can be very severe,” Dubey cautioned.
Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University’s Centre for Science and International Affairs, added things are good now at the start of flu season, but predicted the flu season could pick up after Christmas gatherings.
“We need to be monitoring what is happening as we now have a large comfortable population,” Madad said.
“We need to stay on the safe side. The flu isn’t just a nuisance. People can be hospitalized or die.”
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu shot each year, according to health officials.
Like COVID, people can reduce the spread of the flu by washing their hands, using alcohol-based sanitizers, and by covering their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing.
People should also avoid touching their eyes and mouths, and those who are sick should remain at home.