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A kidney dish with syringes containing the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine sits in a refrigerator ready for use at a vaccination center in Prisdorf, Germany, on Feb. 26, 2022.Georg Wendt/The Associated Press

The latest news

  • Canadian pediatric hospitals are bracing for a surge in respiratory illness over the holidays, although they don’t expect their emergency departments and intensive-care units to be as overwhelmed as they were last year, when influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) rebounded after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Doctors at Montreal Children’s Hospital and CHU Sainte-Justine, a French-language pediatric hospital, held a joint news conference on Wednesday urging parents to keep children who aren’t seriously sick away from their emergency departments.

  • Public health leaders in Ontario are worried about low uptake of the new COVID-19 vaccines, particularly among the elderly people who are most likely to fall severely ill or die from the virus. Kieran Moore, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, told The Canadian Press this week that only 40 per cent of Ontarians 65 and older have received a fall shot. “That leaves 60 per cent of our adults over 65 not protected at present and that’s got me anxious as we head into the holiday season,” Dr. Moore said. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, echoed those concerns in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen.

  • Health Canada approved an updated version of Novavax’s COVID-19 shot on Tuesday. Nuvaxovid is a protein subunit vaccine that uses harmless pieces of the virus to ready the immune system to fight an infection. Like the reformulated shots made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the new Novavax jab targets the XBB.1.5 variant and is expected to hold up well against similar versions of the virus circulating today.

  • A new Statistics Canada study published Friday found that nearly 12 per cent of all Canadian adults report having experienced long COVID – that is, their symptoms persisted for more than three months after a COVID-19 infection without any other explanation for their ill health.

  • Influenza season is officially under way. The number of flu patients in Canadian hospitals is rising, but the virus is circulating at expected levels for this point in the season, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The same is true of RSV: Activity levels are increasing, but within a range that is similar to prepandemic seasons. As for COVID-19, spread varies from province to province, with Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island all reporting high virus activity right now, according to PHAC.

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.

Flu outlook in Canada

Influenza season is ramping up. In the week that ended Dec. 2, labs across the country found 3,077 cases of the flu, the vast majority of them caused by influenza A. Although that figure represents just a fraction of total flu cases – patients who fight the virus at home aren’t tested or counted – it provides a signal of influenza’s spread and severity. The positivity rate for flu tests was 9.9 per cent in week that ended Dec. 2, up from 7.5 per cent the week before.

There were 866 hospital admissions related to the flu and reported to PHAC between late August and Dec. 2, according to Friday’s FluWatch report. That’s a significant jump from the previous week’s report, when PHAC tallied 555 hospital admissions between late August and Nov. 25. Thirty per cent of hospitalized flu patients were 65 or older.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19

Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, the total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across Canada increased slightly to 4,628 from 4,606. The last time more than 4,600 hospital beds were filled with patients testing positive for COVID-19 was back in January.

The number of patients sick enough to require an intensive-care bed rose last week, to 164 from 158. The number of COVID-19 patients who were mechanically ventilated held steady at 71. Rates of hospital admission for COVID-19 remain highest among seniors.

There were 117 COVID-19 deaths in Canada in the week of Nov. 19 to 25, the most recent week for which PHAC has data.

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-19 boosters

The three authorized vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax, protect against the XBB.1.5 subvariant 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

Current health guidance for COVID-19

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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