Coughing, sore throats, feeling feverish, runny and stuffy noses, body aches, headaches, tiredness, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. These are the symptoms of influenza, also known as the flu. Much different from a cold, the flu comes with complications that could result in hospitalization, pneumonia, or sometimes even death. These concerns bring us to the annual flu shot investigation on whether the shot is necessary or not.
Every year the World Health Organization visits the flu strains that are circulating around the world. Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization determines which of these strains are most likely to spread and make people the most ill. Strains change every year which is why patients need to get a shot every year.
The Manager of Vaccine Preventable Diseases Program at the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), Marlene Price explains a common misperception is that the flu shot is meant to give patients the flu. “It’s an inactivated vaccine, it’s a trigger for the body to recognize that there is an influenza strain virus there for the body to build that protection against the virus, so that after you’ve had a flu shot if you were to come in contact with influenza you would be protected against it.”
The flu season normally lasts from November to May, those who get flu shots will be protected for the entire season. However, how effective the flu shot is varies amongst the various risk groups.
“For healthy adults it ranges from about 69-90% effective. In children it’s a little bit less and for the elderly it’s about half of that. It’s still important the elderly get a flu shot because what the shot does is provide protection against the complications, which can result in hospitalizations and death,” says Price.
“A lot of people don’t think influenza is a serious illness, but it can be.”
Influenza is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada, just in Ontario there’s close to 14-thousand deaths each year. The vaccine in Ontario is recommended for anyone over the age of six months, especially the elderly over the age of 65 and young children under the age of five. Price reminds the public to consider getting the flu shot to protect yourself, or the people around you.
“Health care workers are another group that need to be immunized to protect the clients and patients they’re working with. Same with fire and ambulance, those groups as well. Indigenous people are another group and those with chronic diseases that make them more prone to influenza,” explains Price.
Family physicians, pharmacies, some workplaces and even post-secondary schools offer the flu shot. While physicians and pharmacies would require a health card, the Middlesex-London Health Unit does not. The MLHU is providing free flu vaccines this season during regular hours, or by appointment. Talk to your doctors if you’re unsure if the flu vaccine is a safe option for you, or to better understand the benefits and its risks.