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Doctors say flu starting to hit adults as hospitalization rates of seniors climb

TORONTO — Doctors say influenza spread is starting to hit older adults as surveillance levels indicate the hospitalization rate of seniors is not that far behind that of children. Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada for the week ending Nov.
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A staff member at a vaccine clinic looks outside the clinic for people waiting to get their shot, in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Doctors say influenza spread is starting to hit older adults as surveillance levels indicate the hospitalization rate of seniors is not that far behind that of children. Doctors are urging people to get the shot, saying it's not too late. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Doctors say influenza spread is starting to hit older adults as surveillance levels indicate the hospitalization rate of seniors is not that far behind that of children. 

Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada for the week ending Nov. 26 show that children under five still made up the highest number of hospitalized flu patients, but the rate at which people 65 years of age and older are hospitalized is also rising. 

Hospitalizations among both young children and seniors have increased sharply over recent weeks during a flu season that started earlier than usual. 

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said he's already seeing more seniors with flu as in-patients at Toronto General Hospital. 

”We have, you know, a bit of a perfect storm with a monster influenza season that started early and rose quickly. We have subpar influenza vaccine uptake. And we have a health care system that is completely stretched,” Bogoch said. 

Not all provinces report vaccine uptake before the season is over. Alberta is among the provinces that does — it says so far this season 22.5 per cent of Albertans have received an influenza vaccine, which is about the same uptake as this time last year.

Nationally, the Public Health Agency of Canada says uptake has been around 40 per cent for adults over the last two years.

Flu infections among adults will likely continue to rise, he said, noting that the influenza season normally peaks sometime in January, with cases dropping off through February and then petering out in the late winter. 

"We're already in a tough flu season and we probably have several more months of this to go.”

In most years, children tend to get the flu first and then bring it home to parents and grandparents, said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. 

Quebec hospitals are "on the cusp" of seeing that impact, Oughton said.

A rise in adult cases overlapping with the surge in pediatric cases could add more pressure on a health-care system that is already dealing with staff shortages heading into the holiday season, he said.   

Doctors are urging people to get the flu shot, noting it takes two weeks to take effect. 

"We really are barrelling into that flu season right now and we need the protection from vaccines," Oughton said. 

"This is the time to get that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

This report has been produced with the financial assistance of the Canadian Medical Association. It has no say in editorial choices.

Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press

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