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COVID-19 protocols have nearly eradicated flu, other viruses

Photo by Vera Davidova.

Covid protocols such as masking, social distancing, and increased hygiene have practically eliminated the other nasty viruses that normal bog down the Canadian healthcare system. This was according to Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, and soon to be Chief Medical officer of Health for Ontario.

“In Canada, we traditionally would see 3,500 people die from influenza annually,” said Dr.Moore in a press conference Friday, May 28, 2021. “We had none of that last year.”

“One in 10 of us normally get influenza, every winter,” Moore explained, describing the symptoms of influenza, “that sudden profound fever, chills, muscle aches, joint aches, and then the cough, and then, some immune suppressed people [who] are elderly, they get a full pneumonia, and it’s very hard on the young and the very old.”

He went on to explain that this past fall, Public Health diligently ramped up vaccinations for the flu, to make sure that flu wasn’t mistaken for COVID-19, or vice versa.  “I really do think we had a very robust immunization strategy for influenza in the fall. I think that helped, but wearing a mask, hand hygiene, and physical distancing really brought all of the respiratory viruses under control for us,” he said.

Happily the COVID protocols in place meant that far fewer children suffered this year. “In the hospital we didn’t see a lot of children with croup, or bronchitis. We didn’t see much influenza activity at all,” said Moore.

Moore said childhood viruses were nearly eliminated this past year, which “had a direct benefit to the health system, as well as our long term care system.”

“By the third week of September, you can traditionally see a large spike in hospital admissions for asthma, as well as respiratory illnesses for children. And we didn’t see any of that last year,” he explained. It was also beneficial for schools, to “not have to deal with those nasty viruses that we traditionally see in the third week of September — that’s typically when the viral season starts, and where we start to see exacerbation of underlying illnesses, and breathing illnesses like asthma as a result of allergies and viruses.”

“One of the lessons learned is, if we maintain these practices, we can eliminate those other nasty viruses that have a significant and important effect on our population and on our health system,” Moore said.

“What I’m concerned about is, if we let our guard down [in the fall], we will have all of these other viruses that can be mimickers of COVID that will make people anxious that it could have been COVID.”

He explained that “all these other nasty viruses will slowly come back as we decrease our masking and our hand hygiene and our physical distancing.  And that’s why I think, in the fall, most of us will continue with some of these practices: it would be prudent to have them in the school setting, just so we don’t have a lot of concern or anxiousness, about the other viruses that normally occur.”

Continuing with some of the current protocols would be beneficial in a number of ways, Moore expressed.

“If we maintain these practices over this winter season, we could have a really great influenza season with minimal impact on the hospitals and the long term care sector, on all of us,” he said.

“It would be great if we gave our health system a chance to restore and recover this year by continuing these practices throughout the winter, so that they can continue to get back to the work of doing the cancer surgery and the cancer care, and get to the hip and knee and joint replacement waitlist that has built up as a result of the pandemic.  And help them provide the best care to members of our community by reducing the impact of viruses in general on the hospital sector.”

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