Pub­lic health hop­ing for slow flu sea­son

Last year’s vac­cine was a poor match , but of­fi­cials hope this year’s is more ef­fec­tive

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - JO­HANNA WEI­D­NER Water­loo Re­gion Record jwei­d­ner@there­ Twit­ter: @Wei­d­nerRecord

WATER­LOO RE­GION — The last flu sea­son in Water­loo Re­gion was busy and long.

“Last year was one of our busiest on record,” said David Aoki, man­ager of vac­cine pre­ventable dis­eases at Water­loo Re­gion Pub­lic Health.

“The vac­cine was not a good match for what was cir­cu­lat­ing.”

The 2017-18 sea­son had the high­est num­ber of lab-con­firmed cases on record at 492 and a high num­ber of out­breaks at long-term-care and re­tire­ment homes, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­gional re­port.

Unusu­ally, both sub­types of in­fluenza A and B cir­cu­lated in the com­mu­nity for a sus­tained pe­riod of time, and then lin­gered into late spring.

That was com­pounded by the vac­cine be­ing rel­a­tively in­ef­fec­tive at only 38 per cent over­all.

The three-strain flu shot given to adults last sea­son didn’t in­clude the B strain that was preva­lent. Most A-strain cases were H3N2, which tends to af­fect peo­ple over 65, lead­ing to many nurs­ing home out­breaks.

This sea­son, ev­ery­one over six months who gets the flu shot is get­ting the quadri­va­lent vac­cine. Last year, it was given only to those un­der 18, and that had a good match for in­fluenza B.

A high-dose vac­cine is also avail­able this year for peo­ple over 65. It con­tains more of the in­ac­ti­vated virus to give a big­ger jolt to the im­mune sys­tem, which wanes with age.

“There’s more op­por­tu­nity for your body to re­spond to it,” Aoki said. “Hope­fully, they get more pro­tec­tion than a nor­mal vac­cine would pro­vide.”

Last year, it was avail­able but not pub­licly funded in On­tario. This sea­son it is cov­ered and avail­able from fam­ily doc­tors. Peo­ple are urged to talk to their doc­tor about which vac­cine is best for them.

Aoki said it’s too soon to know for sure if this year’s vac­cine will be a good match be­cause the cir­cu­lat­ing strains aren’t yet clear. “It looks like it will be,” he said.

The H1N1 strain that was preva­lent in the south­ern hemi­sphere is in the vac­cine peo­ple are get­ting now.

Of­ten there is a spike in vac­ci­na­tion rates fol­low­ing a busy flu sea­son, Aoki said.

“It’s the best tool we have to prevent in­fluenza.”

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