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Alberta records highest number of weekly new flu cases in 14 years


'Tis the season to be newly sick with the flu — last week in numbers not seen in 14 years.

With one week left of fall until it's officially winter — and the Christmas holidays soon after — the number of people in Alberta becoming sick with influenza is the highest it’s been since October 2009.

According to Alberta Health data, the week of Dec. 3 saw 1,800 people become sick with laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza.

That tops the 1,778 people in the province who became sick with flu the week of Oct. 25, 2009. Last year, the peak number of new influenza cases peaked at 1,572 the week of Nov. 13.

So far this season, 5,848 Albertans have come down with the respiratory illness, 5,159 or 88 per cent of them with the H1N1 strain.

Pharmacist Shivali Sharma told CTV News Edmonton the Shoppers Drug Mart location she owns in Edmonton's Windermere neighbourhood is seeing a "large increase" in the number of people looking for medication and remedies for respiratory ailments.

"We're getting a lot of people coming in, picking up medication for family members, loved ones, friends that can't leave the house because they're too sick," Sharma said. "We're also starting to see an uptick in people coming in to get vaccinated as well as more and more people are falling ill with flu, with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses this season."

Local hospitals also are seeing an influx of people, but with the health-care system already strained, some of those who may need treatment aren't being seen by medical professionals, Dr. Darren Markland told CTV News Edmonton.

"The emergency rooms are the intakes for the intensive-care unit where I work, but the emergencies have always been busy. Now with respiratory viruses, they're insanely busy," said Markland, a physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in central Edmonton.

"(Staff in emergency rooms) are supposed to be the people who make diagnoses, initiate treatment and then move on to the next patient, but to do that, they need to be able to move patients through the unit. That's the big issue right now.

"There are no beds in the hospital. In fact, we're at about 150-per-cent capacity, and of course, that's really hampering. Once you become a stretched-out hospital, everything becomes super inefficient."

Markland said some people who may be sick "will tough it out" because they can't be seen by a physician in a timely manner, which could lead to more complications and a worse outcome.

"In the ICU, I'm seeing the worst-case complications and people who go home, kind of pound back the Advil and then develop a secondary bacterial infection, and then they get super sick, and they end up in the ICU on all forms of life support," he said.

"I'm not trying to scare people, but a really good, functional health-care system should say, 'If I feel crappy, I should be able to see my family doctor within 24 hours to sort things out.' It doesn't exist, and that's why we're seeing delayed presentations of people who could be very well managed by care networks. Nurse practitioners, physicians, all people working in care networks could easily support this, but it's not there."

Sharma said the respiratory illness season "still hasn't quite hit the peak" and that it's "a perfect time to get vaccinated, especially as we head into the holiday gathering season."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa

"We're going to be gathering indoors, large crowds — all of that increases the likelihood of spread of these respiratory viruses, so we need to make sure we are doing our part as we head into the holiday season," she said.

"Getting vaccinated right now is still going to offer us and our loved ones protection so that we don't end up all falling ill in January." Top Stories

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