Kenneth Brown
of The Clarion

The risk of contracting the influenza virus still exists, and people can still be immunized to prevent against getting sick as the flu season winds down.

The ministry of health publishes weekly influenza surveillance reports and the most recent report available on Tuesday morning is for the week ending on Jan. 12. The statistics show a large decrease in confirmed cases since the middle to end of December.

According to health officials, a total of seven people have died due to seasonal influenza this season and three of the deaths involved children in their pre-school years. The strains circulating this flu season include the H1N1 virus and H1N1 is known to have a greater impact on young children.

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A ministry official confirmed that the most recent influenza death occurred near the end of December and the deceased individual was not a child. The recent surveillance report states that from Sept. 1 to Jan. 12, there were 2,035 lab-confirmed cases of influenza.

Of the 2,035 confirmed cases, only one case involved a Type B influenza strain. Influenza has A and B strains and the Type A strains tend to be more predominant earlier in the season. The H1N1 virus is a Type A strain of influenza.

Statistics show the flu season has peaked with respect to lab-confirmed cases. There was a steady increase of confirmed cases after the week ending on Nov. 3 and there were 36 cases in that week. The number of new confirmed cases increased each week until it peaked in the week ending on Dec. 15 at 358 cases.

Since the peak week with 358 cases, the number of confirmed cases has decreased to 324, 207, 107 and 26 in the weeks to follow. The 26 confirmed cases in the week ending on Jan. 12 was the lowest number for any week since 11 confirmed cases in the week ending on Oct. 20.

The age breakdown for the 2,035 lab-confirmed cases is 545 children under five years old, 474 people from five to 19 years old, 820 people from 20 to 64 years old, and 196 people at 65 and older. The H1N1 virus hits working-aged adults.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the chief medical health officer for Saskatchewan, spoke to the media on Jan. 14 and he said in addition to the seven deaths, another 14 people have been admitted to hospital during the current flu season. He said in the past 10 years, there have been four H1N1 seasons and six H3N2 seasons.

There are more outbreaks in long-term care (LTC) facilities in H3N2 seasons, he said. The 2017-18 flu season was an H3N2 season and there were 84 influenza outbreaks in LTC facilities across Saskatchewan, but there have only been 17 outbreaks this season.

“This is turning out to be a very typical H1N1 season,” Shahab said, recognizing that there have been more hospitalizations and deaths among pre-school children and working-aged adults than in years when H3N2 is the predominant strain.

He noted that children under five years of age have likely not been exposed to H1N1 before, so the virus hits them hard. Shahab said about 10 per cent of the population experiences the flu each year, and most of the cases are mild and do not require hospitalization.