Calgary records Alberta’s first flu death of season as bug arrives early

CALGARY—This year’s flu season has taken an early toll on Calgary compared to the rest of the province, with the city recording Alberta’s first death of the season last week.

Alberta Health Services released its third weekly report of the 2018-19 flu season on Thursday, showing Calgary is still outpacing the rest of the province in confirmed cases of the flu. Out of 290 total hospitalizations from the flu across the province, 200 were in the Calgary zone, as well as the first death of flu season.

Health officials in Alberta are encouraging residents to get their flu shots after Calgary experienced an early arrival of the bug this season.
Health officials in Alberta are encouraging residents to get their flu shots after Calgary experienced an early arrival of the bug this season.  (StarMetro file)

This comes a year after the 2017-18 flu season saw an increase in flu-related deaths, jumping to 92 compared to 64 the previous season.

Of the two flu strains AHS tracks in these reports, 922 lab-confirmed cases of influenza A were recorded in Calgary, with 184 in Edmonton. Meanwhile, 10 of the 13 influenza B cases confirmed so far are from Calgary.

But David Strong, AHS’ lead medical officer of health in the Calgary zone, said an early arrival of the virus in the city is to blame for how many more cases it has experienced over Edmonton, but Alberta’s capital city will likely catch up before the season is finished.

“It’s an imported disease. The virus is circulating all around the world,” Strong said.

“Largely, it’s somebody that’s been travelling that gets the virus and brings it back, and multiple people usually to start … an outbreak.”

Craig Jenne, an assistant professor with the University of Calgary’s department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases, speculated the higher number of recorded flu cases in Calgary came from the city’s health facilities still being in the middle of their vaccination campaigns.

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“Often the flu will arrive a little bit later and we’ll have more people vaccinated before it gets here,” Jenne said. “We’re looking at a situation where probably the virus arrives before we’re at optimal protection.”

Jenne said he has faith in the strength of Alberta’s flu shots this year. The vaccine in past years has at times been a poor match for the strain going around the province, Jenne said, but he added that information from other countries like Australia, which has gone through this strain of the flu, can confirm the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine.

But Jenne worried that not enough Calgarians are getting a flu shot.

“The last numbers I saw, we’re still not even really close to vaccination numbers we had last year,” Jenne said.

“I think people are getting vaccinated, but they’re doing it quite slowly. If we take advantage of the clinics when they open, then a larger number of the population will be protected before any flu arrives.”

Strong said Alberta Health Services’ goal for the vaccination rate in Calgary this year was 30 per cent. AHS still hasn’t quite reached that mark, with 388,318 doses administered in the city so far this season.

Different strains of the flu work on different timetables in how quickly they’re spread across the province, but Jenne and Strong were hesitant to call Calgary’s early hit an anomaly. Both warned it will take more time to make a judgment about how tough this season has been.

Public flu shot clinics are still open at South Calgary Health Centre, Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre in Calgary’s southwest, the Northgate shopping centre, and Brentwood Village Mall.

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Andrew Jeffrey is a reporter/photographer for StarMetro Calgary. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_jeffrey


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