It is that time of year again and the flu is raging across Canada and the U.S. Sharon Begley for Reuters said yesterday that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Influenza has officially reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 7.3 percent of deaths last week caused by pneumonia and the flu.”
The flu this year started early and spread fast. Doctors’ offices, hospitals, and clinics are overwhelmed with flu patients. It is so bad that some people had to wait overnight to be seen in emergency rooms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the flu pretty much spread across the U.S. in high levels weeks before the usual late January and February outbreaks. Only California and the Southwest have reported normal levels of influenza at this time.
Normally tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die from influenza each year. It is too early to know the full figures for this year at this time. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency on Wednesday. Twenty-four hospitals in Illinois had to turn away flu sufferers from the emergency rooms. Furthermore, the Lehigh Valley Hospital outside of Allentown, PA set up a tent where people with less-severe symptoms can be treated. Twenty children have already died so early into the flu season compared to a total of 34 who died last year.
“In Boston, the Catholic Archdiocese has told priests they could suspend the offering of communion wine using a shared chalice and bow rather than shake hands while exchanging the Sign of Peace, a Christian greeting. Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Deeley urged priests to use hand sanitizer before and after communion and to avoid touching congregants' tongues or hands. He said parishioners who were ill "should remain at home and return to church when they are well."
CBC news reported there were 107 flu cases the first week of January in Canada. Most of the outbreaks occurred in long-term care facilities in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. According to officials the ratio of outbreaks this year is higher than last year. No deaths have been reported so far. Of the 95 cases of flu reported in the first week of January, 69 of them were children.
The norovirus has led to over capacity issues in emergency rooms in New Brunswick. Not only did the flu season start early in Canada and the United States, it contains a “strain that makes people sicker.”
People in both countries are urged to get the flu vaccine. Even though the vaccine does not prevent flu, it will weaken the symptoms of flu in the people who were vaccinated.