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Canadians battle high flu activity


Thousands of Canadians already dealing with the flu this year
Thousands of Canadians already dealing with the flu this year

Staff writers

January 4, 2013 — An aggressive strain of influenza is leaving Canadians battling the virus earlier than previous years.

Experts say there were very few cases of the flu last winter when temperatures were mild. Is the cold weather to blame?
Experts say there were very few cases of the flu last winter when temperatures were mild. Is the cold weather to blame?

Coughing, sneezing, fever, aches and pains. For many Canadians, that's how they spent the holiday season this year. 

Health officials say, localized influenza activity, also known as the flu, is affecting thousands of people nationwide. 

Typically, the flu strikes any time between November and April with a peak somewhere near the end of January. This year however, there has been an earlier increase in the number of flu-related cases.

According to Health Canada, 3,500 cases of the flu had been reported across the country by December 15. At the same time in 2011, there were only 182 cases. 

Officials are finding the majority of cases this season have to do with an aggressive sub-type of the H3N2 virus. That combined with social mingling at several holiday parties have likely helped with the early spread. 

"All indicators are showing that this flu season is earlier than past years," says Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health.

In southern Ontario alone, medical centres in Windsor have seen nearly triple the amount of patients with the flu compared to last year. 

Some experts blame the increase on the colder weather this winter. Spending more time inside when temperatures are cold can help germs to spread quickly.

Be sure to check the flu report
Be sure to check the flu report

Health scientists in the U.S. are also looking at weather data to predict disease outbreaks. 

Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University lead a recent study, which uses a model based on weather and flu data from 2003-2009. 

The design of the model was built around earlier studies that revealed flu virus spreads better when the air is dry and turns colder.

The model factors in humidity readings, temperatures and other weather conditions as a way to provide real-time predictions and flu trends. 

Other scientists warn however, that weather-based prediction models still have a long way to go as outbreaks are influenced as much by human behaviour and other factors as they are by the weather.

"The flu shot remains the most effective and safe way to protect you and your family from seasonal flu," advises Dr. King. 

Washing your hands or using alcohol based sanitizer is also important, as well as getting enough sleep and drinking sufficient amounts of water to help boost your immune system. 

Be sure to check the National Flu Report to stay up-to-date on the influenza activity in your area. 

With files from The Associated Press

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