Weekly reports from the health-care frontlines show high numbers of patients with influenza-like symptoms visiting doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and higher numbers than usual of lab-confirmed influenza cases, especially in southwestern and eastern Ontario.
For the period Sept. 1 to Dec. 10, Ontario had 15 lab-confirmed cases of influenza last year and 729 reported cases this year. In the same time period last year, the province had no flu institutional outbreaks; this year there have been 49.
The province is also experiencing more respiratory infection outbreaks in institutions such as long-term care homes.
To date, most of the confirmed influenza cases and outbreaks are due to the influenza A (H3N2) virus. Commonly, when H3N2 is the main circulating influenza virus, illness tends to be more severe. This year's flu vaccine is well matched to the influenza A (H3N2) strain circulating throughout Ontario.
Seasonal influenza annually results in up to 1,000 hospitalizations and up to 1,600 deaths in Ontario. Hospitalization rates are highest among children under five years old; deaths occur most often among those over 65.
The flu vaccine is provided free of charge to everyone six months of age and older who lives, works or attends school in Ontario. Flu shots are available at doctors' offices, participating pharmacies and through local public health units.
If you do get sick, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent the spread of illness to friends and family, such as washing your hands thoroughly and often, sneezing and coughing into your sleeve, and staying home when you're sick.
Individuals with respiratory illness symptoms are encouraged to access the flu assessment tool at www.ontario.ca/flu. Consultation with registered nurses is also available by calling Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007).