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With Canada’s colder weather comes respiratory virus season, when influenza, RSV and other viruses circulate alongside the COVID-19 virus that remains with us. While Canadians learned a lot about how to protect themselves from illness over the course of the pandemic, new information from health care practitioners can help inform decisions, from availability of flu shots to any changes in COVID-19 protocols.

We’ll be publishing an update on respiratory virus season each week. Looking for more information on the topic that you don’t see here? E-mail to see if we can help.

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Long COVID survivor Sonja Mally poses for a portrait in Toronto, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris YoungChris Young/The Canadian Press

The latest news

  • In a statement released this week, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam noted that a number of viruses, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and SARs-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, are all circulating, which is “posing significant challenges to hospitals” in some areas.
  • Influenza activity continues to rise in Canada, although it remains at expected levels, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said Friday. According to the agency’s latest Flu Watch report, released Friday, there is widespread flu activity throughout Alberta and parts of B.C. Health care professionals in Alberta told The Globe and Mail this week they are seeing a major surge in children and adults coming to the emergency room for flu and other respiratory virus symptoms.
  • A new report from Statistics Canada reveals that nearly 12 per cent of adults say they developed long-term symptoms that lasted months after a COVID-19 infection. Canadian researchers are studying long COVID, also referred to as post-COVID syndrome, to try and figure out, among other things, who is most at risk and what treatments may help.

Flu shots

Flu shot clinics and programs are ramping up across the country, with appointments being made available for anyone six months and older. Find out about clinics and availability for each of the provinces and territories here:

Newfoundland; Prince Edward Island; Nova Scotia; New Brunswick; Quebec; Ontario; Manitoba; Saskatchewan; Alberta; British Columbia; Yukon; Northwest Territories; Nunavut

COVID boosters

The three authorized vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax, protect against the XBB.1.5 subvariant of COVID-19 and should provide good protection against the related EG.5 family. The reformulated mRNA shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are approved for anyone six months and older. Novavax’s shot is approved for those 12 and up.

COVID-19 vaccine information for the provinces and territories can be found here:

Newfoundland; Prince Edward Island; Nova Scotia; New Brunswick; Quebec; Ontario; Manitoba; Saskatchewan; Alberta; British Columbia; Yukon; Northwest Territories; Nunavut

Flu outlook in Canada

The vast majority of flu cases in Canada are influenza A, and most of those are the H1N1 subtype. During the week that ended Dec. 9, there were 243 hospital admissions linked to the flu, 35 ICU admissions and under 5 deaths.

From Aug. 27 to Dec. 9, PHAC reports that there have been 152 ICU admissions and 38 deaths linked to the flu in Canada. Adults 65 and older and children under five accounted for the highest cumulative hospitalization rates in Canada, at 36 per 100,000 and 31 per 100,000, respectively.

Hospitalizations for COVID

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that for the week ending Dec. 12, there was a slight increase in the number of beds occupied by patients in hospital as a result of COVID-19, going from 4,679 to 4,687. The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU, 159, did not change from the previous week.

Current health guidance for COVID

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary, but generally include sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, feeling feverish, chills, fatigue or weakness, muscle or body aches, new loss of smell or taste, headache, abdominal pain and diarrhea. According to Health Canada, you may start experiencing symptoms anywhere from one to 14 days after exposure. Typically, symptoms appear between three to seven days after exposure.

Health Canada advises following the testing guidelines provided by your local public health authority if you have symptoms or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. If you test positive, immediately isolate yourself from others, including those in your household, and follow the advice of your local public health authority on isolation requirements.

How to protect yourself and your loved ones from respiratory viruses

Respiratory viruses are spread from person to person or through contact with contaminated surfaces, so it’s important to protect against both forms of transmission. Health Canada recommends wearing a medical mask or respirator, washing your hands regularly or using hand sanitizer, covering your coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and objects. If you feel sick, stay home and limit contact with others.

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