WINNIPEG -- Early reports of flu activity in Manitoba show numbers are still low, but there is an unusual trend — higher numbers of influenza B.

“Influenza B is just another type of influenza,” explained Dr. Richard Rusk, a medical officer of health with Manitoba Health. “The two influenzas are influenza A and influenza B, and they both cause the disease influenza, but typically we don’t see influenza B this early in the season. We tend to see it later.”

A typical flu season starts with the circulation of influenza A according to Rusk. He explained what usually happens is influenza B comes later, prolonging the season.

The provincial Influenza Surveillance Report from the week of Nov. 24 to 30, 2019 rates flu activity as ‘low’ but noted that there has been clusters of influenza B cases detected in a few Northern communities.

Since September the update said there have been 40 lab confirmed cases of influenza A in Manitoba and 62 lab confirmed cases of influenza B.

Compare that to the same time from last year, where there had been 157 cases of influenza A and zero cases of B.

Rusk said it’s not 100 per cent known why the B strain is here early.

“There is more influenza B right across the country as opposed to last year,” he said. “Here in Manitoba we haven’t really seen it down in Winnipeg very much.”

He said the clusters of cases up north may be isolated and make it seem like we’re having more early cases provincially. He added it’s just a matter of time before influenza B makes it down to southern Manitoba.

His concern for this year is there could be more viruses around at the same time.

“If there is more virus around, potentially more people will get sick,” he said. “We’ve kind of got the perfect storm brewing at the moment for Christmas, New Years, beginning of January because we’ve got potentially a lot of virus coming as opposed to protracting it out over the whole season.”

Rusk said influenza B is in this year’s vaccine and there is a lot of it in Manitoba still available. He said getting the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from getting sick. He also reminded people to wash hands regularly, cover coughs, and if you’re sick to stay home.

“There is a difference every single year, at the end of the day it’s influenza and that is the most important,” he said.

“People are who are elderly, they’ll still die from it whether it is A or B and those who are immunocompromised are definitely at risk, as well as women who are pregnant and then the young children.”