'This is not simply the flu': Manitoba's top doctor warns of differences between COVID-19 and the flu

The province’s top doctor is warning Manitobans – getting the flu is not the same as getting COVID-19, which has proven to be much more deadly.

As the province gears up to face flu season amid a pandemic, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, once again urged Manitobans on Wednesday to get their flu shot.

“We know flu virus is on its way to Manitoba,” he said. “We have to do whatever we can to limit its impact at the same time as we're battling COVID.”

Last year, the province recorded 1,856 people infected with either influenza A or B. Of those people, 29 died.

Since 2015, the flu has killed 131 people in Manitoba.

“I'm not one that ever takes the flu lightly,” Roussin said. “The flu kills Manitobans every single year, and thousands of Canadians every single year.”


Health officials say it is important Manitobans realize how different COVID-19 is.


For the past two weeks, the province has reported COVID-19 deaths every single day, adding two more deaths on Wednesday. As of Wednesday, Manitoba has seen 87 people die of COVID-19, more than half the number of deaths reported in October alone.

READ MORE: Two new COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba; 374 cases announced Wednesday

“You can see from jurisdictions around the world that this is not simply the flu,” Roussin said. “This is multiple times more deadly than the flu, and if we ignore this our health care system will not be able to keep up with demand.”

Roussin said it is difficult to compare the deaths caused by the flu to deaths caused by COVID-19 as there is no widespread testing for the flu, as there is for COVID-19.


Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr, founder of EPI research, says symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, which may cause some issues going into this year’s flu season.

“The problem is those two things co-occurring and the impact on the health system and the impact on your body if you get infected with both,” she said.

“It can make it challenging for someone to know, ‘could this be COVID or could this be influenza?’, because there is many symptoms that are similar.”

She said while the two viruses share some symptoms, the recovery is different, which can lead to a much bigger impact on the health care system.

“We know that influenza-like illness accounts for about one-in-four emergency department visits during the flu season. It is a very serious impact on our health system,” she said, adding an older person with COVID-19 may be in the hospital for two weeks.


Each year, the flu puts hundreds of Manitobans in hospital. Despite hospital resources currently stretched thin in their response to the pandemic, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said there are plans in place to deal with both.

She said they will start decreasing surgeries if needed.

“It's really about having plans in place before the crisis hits which all sites would have,” she said.