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With Canada’s colder weather comes respiratory virus season, with flus and RSV circulating alongside the COVID-19 virus that remains with us. While Canadians learned a lot about how to protect themselves from illness during the height of the pandemic, new information released by health care practitioners can help inform decisions, from availability of flu shots to any changes in COVID 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? Email to see if we can help you.

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B.C. says data from 2023 show a three-fold increase in invasive group A streptococcal infections in people under 20. An electron microscope image shows Group A Streptococcus in orange.The Associated Press

The latest news

  • There has been a notable rise in invasive group A strep infections in Canada and they are affecting children in particular. Last week, B.C. officials reported that four children have died as a result of the serious infection since mid-December. Experts say that a rise in respiratory viruses may be behind the increase and are urging families to ensure children are up-to-date with all of their vaccinations.
  • U.S. medical experts say this year’s flu season has been a difficult one, especially for children, and that at least 47 kids have died as a result of the flu so far this year. The Public Health Agency of Canada has not released similar data for this country.

Flu outlook in Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada says that influenza activity decreased in Canada for the week ending Jan. 13. Although the flu is still spreading across the country, it is within the expected range for this time of year, the agency noted in its most recent Flu Watch report. So far this year, nearly 3,200 flu hospitalizations have been reported to PHAC, with nearly half of those being adults 65 and older. The agency added that 426 pediatric hospitalizations have been reported this flu season but did not release details on ICU admissions or deaths in children.

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

Hospitalization for COVID

The Omicron subvariant JN.1 now makes up nearly two-thirds of all COVID cases in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. While it appears to be fairly contagious, there is no evidence to suggest JN.1 leads to worse health outcomes. Across the country, the spread of COVID is at moderate or high levels, with 4,706 people in hospital as a result of the illness as of Jan. 16, according to PHAC, which is virtually unchanged from the week before.

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 JN.1. 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

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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