The beginning of fall brings thoughts of colds and the flu. The words “it’s time for your flu shot” are not exactly what Canadians like to hear, but influenza is a serious disease usually accompanied by fever, headaches, cough and, fatigue for most healthy adults and more severe symptoms that can lead to hospitalization or even death in people with risk conditions. For even healthy people, influenza infection can be debilitating and has been described as feeling like you’ve been ‘hit by a bus’.
Many Canadians don’t know that the very young, those under 5 years of age, and older adults over the age of 65 are at high risk of severe influenza illness and related complications. These groups also don’t respond as well to the influenza vaccine. In a given year an estimated 20,000 hospitalizations related to influenza may occur and as many as 4,000 Canadians die from influenza and its complications; making influenza prevention by healthy individuals who can pass it on to those at high risk for severe disease or complications a necessity.
Bonnie Henry MD MPH FRCP(C)
Healthy individuals can shed the influenza virus and transmit influenza before they develop symptoms, and while hand washing and proper flu etiquette (coughing and sneezing into your sleeve) and staying away from others when you are sick are important ways to decrease the spread of flu; the most effective way to prevent influenza is to be vaccinated. Other people who need protection from their annual flu shot are adults and children with underlying health conditions such as asthma or heart disease, obese individuals, pregnant women, Aboriginal peoples, and residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.
In our busy connected world none of us is isolated and the best way to protect the people around us is to get the flu shot. Not only does this mean you stay healthy but if you don’t get the flu, you can’t spread it to those around you either. There is no better benefit than protecting the ones you love by not taking chances with the flu.