EOHU worried about flu season

by Christopher Smith - EAP
EOHU worried about flu season
EOHU recommends getting vaccinated ahead of flu season and COVID bump. (Photo : file)

The EOHU is expecting an increase in COVID cases to coincide with the onset of flu season, and health officials are worried.

New COVID strains have continued to pop up ever since Omicron variant swept across the world. Although no cases have been detected in Canada, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit warns that it’s expecting an increase in COVID cases as the flu season beings. Protecting the most vulnerable, the immunocompromised as well as the very young and the very old, is a real worry.

The new strains, nicknamed Eris, Pi, and Pirola, are mostly centered on the UK and are causing all the usual symptoms of runny nose, headaches, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat. However, they’re also reportedly causing eye irritation, rashes, and diarrhea.

“The common trend with all these new variants is that they’re multi-generational offshoots of Omicron, and what we’re seeing is that they might be a bit more transmissible, but we’re not seeing any more severity with every change,” said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, EOHU chief medical health officer. “There might have a bit of what’s called immune evasiveness, in other words they may not respond 100 percent to vaccines or antibodies, but this is a pattern that we’ve been seeing since Omicron started. All the subvariants have been a bit more evasive or transmissible, but not more severe.”

The real worry is how the virus may combine with flu season, which last year was overwhelming for hospitals as it came unexpectedly early. Many more people than usual were admitted to hospitals for cases of the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). According to Roumeliotis, the flu disproportionately hit people over 65 and under 5, with multiple deaths occurring in those age brackets. At least six young children died in hospitals across Canada from the infections.

This year, Roumeliotis said it was imperative that as many people as possible get vaccinated, especially those most vulnerable such as young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. The flu vaccine will be made available closer to the season, and Roumeliotis mentioned that there is an RSV vaccine for individuals 60-years-and-older in the works, although he didn’t say if or when that would be available.

In addition, the EOHU is releasing a new COVID vaccine that should be available in October that contains an antigen more closely aligned with what’s being seen in the community. Roumeliotis recommended that anybody who has gone six months without a vaccine or being infected to take advantage of the new vaccine once it’s offered.

“If we’re looking at the two that are definitely vaccine preventable (COVID and flu), we’ll be able to offset that triple threat,” he said. “We’re hoping that the undertone of COVID will continue to be more of an undertone instead of an overt threat.”

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