VANCOUVER — More Canadians are coughing, sniffling and sneezing though what health officials say is a flu season with higher than normal activity.
The flu season began in December and the Public Health Agency of Canada says more than 15,500 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza had been reported by Jan. 6.
The agency says there have been 54 flu-related deaths, 162 people have been admitted to intensive care units and the number of hospitalizations is "considerably elevated" over the same period in the last two flu seasons.
Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia's provincial health officer, says the national number of flu cases is slightly above average, but what's unusual is the strain people are contracting.
Kendall says flu season generally begins with influenza A and ends with influenza B, but this year, the strains are being detected in fairly equal numbers early in the season.
He says that could mean younger people, who are more susceptible to catching the B strain, may get sick earlier, but it's difficult to predict what the rest of the flu season will look like.
"Rather than them getting ill in February or March, they've been getting ill in December and January," he said.
Anyone who hasn't already had a flu shot should get one, Kendall added.
He also noted that it's not yet clear how effective this year's vaccine has been, particularly with the A strain.
The strain, known as H3N2, mutates, making it difficult to match what's in the vaccine to the virus circulating in the community, Kendall said.
"Sometimes the guess is very good and sometimes it's not. And sometimes the virus mutates in a way you can't predict," he said.
Anyone who does catch the flu should take a sick day, Kendall said.
"Basically, protect other people," he said. "If you become ill yourself, rest, stay home, stay hydrated, take symptomatic treatment for aches and pains and cough and try not to spread your virus to other people."