/Health unit reports first influenza case in two years
Dr. Natalie Bocking addresses media in a briefing held virtually on March 23./Screenshot from HKPRDHU meeting

Health unit reports first influenza case in two years

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit press conference held virtually on March 23 with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking and a press release issued March 24. 

The first lab-confirmed case of influenza in the region in the past two years was reported last week, after no flu activity was reported in the HKPRD region during the 2020-2021 influenza season.

“Typically, we have many more influenza cases in our region much earlier in the flu season, but this is something else that the pandemic has turned upside down,” said Bocking in a press release. “Given the prevalence of COVID-19, especially the highly-infectious Omicron variant, it’s little wonder that influenza has been crowded out over the past two winters.”

Public health precautions including masking, distancing, and limits on gathering to stop the spread of COVID-19 have also helped to limit the spread of other respiratory illnesses like influenza, she said.

With influenza now circulating in the region and most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the health unit encouraged area residents to keep up their efforts to stop the spread of illness.

Minden vaccine clinic closes 

The Minden vaccine clinic closed on March 24, after 70 clinic days. The mass immunization site opened on April 7 last year and more than 12,000 people – up to 500 a day at times – attended at the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena at first, and then the community centre. In total, more than 21,230 doses of vaccine were administered by health unit staff with support from more than 200 volunteers, led by the Rotary Club of Minden.  

“A very tremendous thank you to all of the partners who have made those mass immunization clinics so effective,” said Bocking. She thanked the numerous volunteers and municipalities who have supported the clinics. Vaccinations are still available at mobile clinics, pharmacies and from primary care teams as well as at school-based clinics.

Slight increases in COVID activity

A number of indicators are showing COVID-19 stability, said Bocking, with about 15 to 20 new lab-confirmed cases each day at the health unit. Bocking said those cases were “the tip of the iceberg,” as PCR testing is limited. At the time of the briefing there were two outbreaks ongoing at a group home and correctional centre, and there had been six hospitalizations over the past 14 days.

“So those three indicators are staying stable over the past two weeks,” said Bocking. “We do however have two indicators that are demonstrating a slight increase in activity.”

Bocking said the test positivity had increased very slightly and was close to 10 per cent last week, compared to eight per cent but not as high as 20 per cent that had been seen. The health unit’s wastewater surveillance had indicated increased viral activity in sewersheds in Lindsay and Cobourg, though not as high as during the Omicron wave. Bocking said there is a four to five day lag from when samples are taken and results are reported in the provincial database.

The slight upticks are similar to what is being seen elsewhere in the province and aren’t surprising given measures having been lifted in the province, said Bocking. 

Bocking said the BA.2 variant is slowly becoming the dominant variant in Ontario. Very few cases in the HKPR region have been identified as the BA.2 variant, she said. The BA.2 variant is more transmissible than the Omicron variant but like the Omicron variant is resulting in less severe outcomes, said Bocking. 

Boosters still recommended

Regarding booster doses, of those aged 70 and older, 86 per cent have received their booster dose, while of those 50 and older, 73.6 per cent have received their third dose of vaccine and of those 18 and older, 60.8 per cent have had their booster. 

“I’ve [been asked] some questions about whether or not a booster dose is still worth it at this time, people feel that the Omicron wave is over, public health restrictions have lifted, mandates for masking and vaccination have lifted so why the need for a booster dose?” said Bocking. She still encourages boosters as Omicron is still circulating, and there will be more infections with the BA.2 variant circulating, as well as it being unclear what will happen next with COVID-19 spread in terms of other variants.