01/08/2015 02:45 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT

Flu cases jump in Alberta after early arrival of season

More than three times as many Albertans have contracted influenza this season compared with last, despite the second-best immunization rate ever in the province.

According to weekly reports posted online by Alberta Health, there have been 2,696 confirmed flu cases by the final week of December 2014 — compared with 798 the same time last year.

But Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. James Talbot says that this is still shaping up to be an average flu season.  

Talbot attributes the upswing in numbers to an earlier start of the flu season, which he expects to peak soon.

The dominant strain this season is H3N2, known to be virulent to the elderly, something the numbers support this year.

The average age of the 390 Albertans hospitalized with the flu is 68, compared with 52 last year.

Of the 23 deaths so far this season, the average age is 87, compared with 74 last year. On average, between 30 and 40 people die from the flu by season’s end.

Compounding the problem for seniors this season is that the vaccine is only a partial match for the dominant strain, though Talbot continues to urge people to get the shot.

“That’s not uncommon,” he said. “A partial match is still better than not getting a match at all.”

The good news is that more than 1.7 million Albertans, or 29 per cent, received the flu shot this winter, about one-third more than last.

“We commend Albertans for getting their shots,” Talbot said.