Get­ting the flu shot this year should be the easy choice

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - BUNMI FATOYE

ITH flu sea­son around the cor­ner, Man­i­to­bans will soon have to make an im­por­tant de­ci­sion: whether or not to get the flu shot. It should be an easy choice.

In­fluenza is a res­pi­ra­tory-tract in­fec­tion that spreads through the air via droplets, usu­ally when an in­fected per­son sneezes or coughs, touches some­one, or con­tam­i­nates a sur­face like a handrail or door knob. It kills thou­sands of peo­ple ev­ery year, and leaves many more sick at home or in hospi­tal with com­pli­ca­tions rang­ing from ear in­fec­tions to pneu­mo­nia and wors­en­ing of long-term med­i­cal con­di­tions like asthma, di­a­betes and heart fail­ure.

WGiven the mis­ery as­so­ci­ated with the flu, who wouldn’t want to take ad­van­tage of a vac­ci­na­tion that could re­duce their risk of in­fec­tion?

Yet, the in­fluenza vac­ci­na­tion rate in Win­nipeg re­mains lower than it could be.

On av­er­age, only 22 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion will get vac­ci­nated for in­fluenza in any given year. That means barely one in five peo­ple make an ef­fort to pro­tect them­selves against this vi­ral in­fec­tion.

There are many rea­sons for this, but much prob­a­bly has to do with the fact that many peo­ple don’t see the flu as a se­ri­ous health threat. Yet, the num­bers show oth­er­wise.

Last year, for ex­am­ple, Man­i­toba re­ported 12 in­fluenza-re­lated deaths and 150 hospi­tal ad­mis­sions, in­clud­ing 22 in the in­ten­sive-care unit. Over­all, there were close to 600 con­firmed cases of in­fluenza, and likely hun­dreds more that were un­con­firmed. And last year wasn’t a one-off. The pre­vi­ous year, Man­i­toba re­ported 287 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and 22 deaths as­so­ci­ated with in­fluenza.

Sta­tis­tics show that younger peo­ple — between the ages of 15 and 49 — are least likely to get a flu shot, pos­si­bly be­cause they tend to be healthy and have lit­tle con­tact with the health-care sys­tem or be­cause they think the flu only af­fects older peo­ple and those who are at higher risk.

And there is some truth in that. Depend­ing on the strain, in­fluenza tends to tar­get older peo­ple, chil­dren un­der nine years of age and those with chronic med­i­cal problems. But cer­tain strains — such as the H1N1 virus — will tar­get younger, oth­er­wise healthy in­di­vid­u­als.

In 2015-16, for ex­am­ple, when H1N1 was the pre­dom­i­nant strain, 7.4 per cent of flu-re­lated deaths across the coun­try in­volved peo­ple between the ages of 20 and 44, ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada. This group also ac­counted for 13 per cent of hospi­tal ad­mis­sions and 17.9 per cent of in­ten­sive-care ad­mis­sions.

In other words, in­fluenza is a se­ri­ous health is­sue that af­fects ev­ery­one and de­serves to be taken se­ri­ously.

So what can you do to pro­tect your­self and oth­ers?

First and fore­most, get a flu shot. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, flu vac­cines are proven to be 70 per cent ef­fec­tive, but it is im­por­tant to get one an­nu­ally to en­sure you are pro­tected from the most preva­lent strain of the virus in any given year. This will not only re­duce your odds of be­com­ing in­fected, it will also help pre­vent you from spread­ing the virus to oth­ers who may be more vul­ner­a­ble.

Get­ting a flu shot is easy when you con­sider the va­ri­ety of providers, hours of ac­cess, con­ve­nience and lo­ca­tion. You can get one at doc­tors’ of­fices, walk-in clin­ics, Quick­Care clin­ics, and phar­ma­cies. You can also get a flu shot at one of four Win­nipeg Re­gional Health Author­ity pub­lic health clin­ics lo­cated through­out the city. Each clinic will be open for one day between Oct. 17 -20 to pro­vide flu shots. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit wrha.mb.ca/flu, or call the flu phone line at 204-956-SHOT. You can also down­load the re­gion’s Con­nected Care app for free from the Ap­ple App Store.

There are other steps you can take to pro­tect your­self. Wash­ing your hands through­out the day will re­duce your risk of be­com­ing in­fected through phys­i­cal con­tact with an in­fected per­son or pick­ing up the virus from sur­faces. Peo­ple who sus­pect they are com­ing down with the flu should also stay home from school or work, as this will help re­duce the spread of the virus.

There are, of course, no guar­an­tees you will not get the flu this sea­son. But by get­ting the flu shot and tak­ing other pro­tec­tive mea­sures, you can de­crease your risk of be­com­ing in­fected, and, at the very least, re­duce the sever­ity of ill­ness if you do get sick.

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