News / Toronto

Expert warns of 'worrying' signs pointing to potentially nasty flu season

Flu is off to an early start in Toronto, with 67 lab-confirmed flu cases as of Nov. 25. The average for this time of year is 45.

Beware the flu — signs are pointing to a particularly nasty flu season health experts say.

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Beware the flu — signs are pointing to a particularly nasty flu season health experts say.

Cue the scary music. There could be a monster stalking your holiday celebrations this year — but the true nature of its evil has yet to be revealed.

The villain? Flu. Several "worrying" signs point to a potentially nasty flu season, said influenza expert and Mt. Sinai Hospital microbiologist Dr. Allison McGeer.

Every year, a new vaccine is made to protect against the handful of flu strains experts believe are most likely to circulate, McGeer explained. The shot usually works great against two of them, H1N1 and influenza B.

But, she said, it's a lot harder to make a vaccine that protects against H3N2, a particularly dreadful flu that causes lots of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in seniors.

Even worse, H3N2 is majorly on the fritz this year, mutating like crazy in "16 different directions," McGeer said. That means there's a high chance that whatever strain you pick up as a bonus present at your office Christmas party won't match the one you got in your flu shot, making you vulnerable even if you're vaccinated.

Flu is off to an early start in Toronto, with 67 lab-confirmed flu cases as of Nov. 25. The average for this time of year is 45.

Although up-to date information on strains isn't available for Toronto, H3N2 is currently the most rampant flu in Ontario. Influenza B is also hitting harder than usual.

Given how much flu we see in a season — more than 3,000 cases in Toronto last year — it's too early to interpret the numbers, McGeer said.

She added there's no way to know now which strains will catch fire or die down in the coming weeks and months. If influenza B or H1N1 ramp up, it will likely be a mild flu season.

If it's H3N2?

"We're toast," she said.

Of course, you'll be vulnerable to all those strains if you don't get a flu shot. Even in off years, it's still your best protection, McGeer said.

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