WINNIPEG -- As COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb in Canada, health officials are getting ready for another annual battle: the flu.

Flu season typically starts in late fall and lasts until late winter, usually peaking in January and February. A concern for an already overburdened healthcare system dealing with COVD-19.

"We know that there is always a strain on our health care system during respiratory virus season," said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer. "So now, with it being the first combined season of COVID and flu as well as other respiratory viruses, we aren't entirely sure what to expect."

Roussin said getting a flu shot could be vital to reducing strain on the health care system, a major indicator of how well the COVID-19 response is doing,

"We need to have a very robust uptake to the flu shot and we need to keep doing what we can to limit the impacts of COVID because we know it can be a very challenging time for our health care system," he said.

Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said the flu can be very taxing on resources.

"We know that during peak flu season, at least 25 per cent of emergency room visits every day here in Winnipeg are flu-related, which can be 200-300 visits a day," she said, "We don't want to add to that with COVID-19."

The best way to reduce the strain, according to Carr, is to get the flu shot.

"It will be imperative this year that we in the vaccine. It's an influenza vaccine, it won't protect you from coronavirus, but it will help your body from trying to fight two different infections at the same time."

The flu shot is free and is available at most local pharmacies.

"It impacts both the health care system as well as ourselves as community members in terms of our health," said Carr. "We are the wildcard. We are the ones that working together can stop the chain of transmission."

The Government of Manitoba is expecting more people to get the vaccine this year.

In preparation, it doubled its order for the high-dose influenza vaccine, a more potent vaccine reserved for those at higher risk.

According to numbers from the province, about a quarter of Manitobans got a flu shot last year.


Carr said there is some good news when looking at the upcoming flu season.

"The good news is that we are seeing from the southern hemisphere really low rates of influenza this year."

She noted that researchers don't exactly know why numbers are lower than average this year.

"We don't know if it's a really good vaccine and uptake, if there's something about the influenza not spreading as much this year, or if the social distancing and public health measures have helped."

More information on influenza in Manitoba and the flu shot can be found on the government's website.