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City on the brink of a flu epidemic: Toronto Public Health

It's not too late to get a flu shot.

A patient recieves a flu shot at a mobile tent set up to handle the recent influx of flu cases by the Lehigh Valley Health Network's main hospital campus January 11, 2013 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

A patient recieves a flu shot at a mobile tent set up to handle the recent influx of flu cases by the Lehigh Valley Health Network's main hospital campus January 11, 2013 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Break out the hand sanitizer, Toronto. The city is on the brink of a flu epidemic, according to Toronto Public Health.

Lab-confirmed cases of influenza started creeping up near the end of January and are expected to continue picking up steam. Absenteeism from local schools, another indicator of disease, has also been on the rise.

While influenza outbreaks are expected every winter, they can be difficult to predict — and pin down, said Dr. Irene Armstrong with Toronto Public Health.

“We tend to see all other respiratory viruses spreading at this time as well,” she said.

If you’re feeling ill, Armstrong said you should wash your hands often, avoid touching your face and stay home from work or school.

After all, “you don’t want to infect all your friends and colleagues.”

It’s also not too late to get a flu shot.

“We know that the flu shot, although not perfect, is still the best way to protect yourself from getting influenza,” Armstrong said.

Ontarians have a poor record for getting vaccinated against the flu, ranking near the bottom of a list of proactive proves, according to Statistics Canada. Torontonians also don’t seem overly concerned with vaccination rates falling to just 30 per cent in 2014 from 40 per cent in 2005.

It’s an unfortunate trend, said Dr. Reyhaneh Ghadaki of WellOne Medical Centre.

Despite public information campaigns, “there’s a lot of misconceptions” about the flu shot, Ghadaki said, adding some people think getting vaccinated will make them sick.

What’s an epidemic?

The World Health Organization defines an epidemic as a sudden severe outbreak of more cases of a disease than would normally be expected in a given community or region, during a certain period of time.

— With files from Gilbert Ngabo

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