Say “Boo!” to Flu
Stop playing influenza roulette.
Influenza season usually lasts from November to early April in the Northern Hemisphere, which is why Dr. Robin Williams, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, always suggests getting a flu shot before Halloween – but with at least two more months before the season wanes, she wants you to know you can still keep it at bay. It’s time to stop playing influenza roulette and get immunized.
- Heading south? The flu shot you get in Canada is the same for the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
- Protection develops by about two weeks after the injection and lasts for about six months to a year, depending on the hardiness of your immune system.
- When you get sick with flu, your body fights back with an antibody. A flu virus often changes slightly (“drifts”) and the virus-specific antibody becomes less effective. Because of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) must assess influenza strains in circulation worldwide and decide which should be included in vaccines for the Northern and for the Southern hemispheres for the year.
- This season’s Northern Hemisphere flu shot contains three strains: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1), A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2), and B/Massachusetts/2/2012.
- The vaccine isn’t a perfect match for the A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2) virus dominating this flu season, but Williams notes it will still offer some protection and lessen the severity of the disease if you do get it. So far, most cases of this influenza in Canada occur in people 65 and older. Of the 69 flu-associated deaths reported by the first week of 2015, 64 were of this age group.
- Each year, three to five million people around the world become severely ill, the WHO estimates – and 250,000 to 500,000 die.
- Influenza is droplet-spread – you risk inhaling it if you are within three metres of someone sneezing and coughing. (Hope they do so into their sleeve or tissue.)
- Keep your hands away from your face; wash hands frequently. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel when you can’t access soap and water easily – on an airplane for instance.
- Herd immunity: there is less opportunity for unvaccinated people to be infected if most people around them are immunized against an infectious disease. Influenza, however, requires a very high level of herd immunity, so don’t rely on others – get your influenza vaccination. Protect yourself and vulnerable people you contact: pregnant women, babies and young children, and people with compromised health – especially frail seniors in long-term care situations.
- Maintain your resistance by eating well, sleeping well, exercising adequately and maintaining a happy mental attitude, Williams advises.
- If you do fall ill, don’t spread disease – stay home. Consult your doctor if your symptoms are severe or last too long, especially if you have a productive cough and chills that persist or vomiting or diarrhea.
- When you turn 65, ask your physician about getting a pneumococcal shot. Pneumonia can be a dangerous complication of influenza in older people and one dose of this safe and effective vaccine is all that’s needed for most people.
- “Sometimes people confuse celebrity with subject matter expertise,” Williams says, so if you worry about safety or efficacy of the influenza vaccine, talk to your doctor. “It doesn’t give you the disease and it does give protection,” she notes.