10 rea­sons you should get the flu shot now

In­fluenza symp­toms can be es­pe­cially se­ri­ous and deadly for chil­dren and the el­derly

Toronto Star - - SPECIAL REPORT: BOOMER HEALTH - CAMILLA COR­NELL SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

It’s that time again. Time to get your flu shot. And though you may be one of those who would rather be fea­tured on My Strange Ad­dic­tion than get a nee­dle, you’d be wise to con­quer your fears and get your­self to a phar­macy or doc­tor’s of­fice. Here’s why: 1. You shouldn’t mess around with in­fluenza. The flu is a highly con­ta­gious virus that in­fects mil­lions of Cana­di­ans an­nu­ally. “It can be se­ri­ous even for peo­ple who are healthy,” says Dianne Carmichael, a long­time health-care vet­eran and board mem­ber for the ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Pa­tients Canada.

“But it’s par­tic­u­larly se­ri­ous for chil­dren, the el­derly and any­one with a com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tem.”

Peo­ple with con­di­tions such as di­a­betes, heart dis­ease and asthma or chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble, Carmichael adds. And those con­di­tions be­come more com­mon in peo­ple over 50 years of age.

In fact, the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol spec­i­fies that dur­ing a vac­cine short­age, adults aged 50-plus should be pri­or­i­tized for the shot.

Al­though most peo­ple re­cover from the flu in about a week, some 12,500 per year end up in hospi­tal with com­pli­ca­tions such as pneu­mo­nia and about 3,500 die an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada.

In fact, stats show ev­ery year, in­fluenza kills more Cana­di­ans than all other vac­cine-pre­ventable ill­nesses com­bined.

Adds Carmichael: “This isn’t the com­mon cold — you just feel like crap!”

2. It works, at least most of the time. Each Fe­bru­ary, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion chooses which flu strains to in­clude in the sea­sonal flu vac­cine, based on the flu viruses cir­cu­lat­ing at that time. Es­sen­tially, scientists are try­ing to peer into the fu­ture, which means some years’ shots are more ef­fec­tive than oth­ers.

But, al­though you could get a flu strain that this year’s vac­cine won’t pro­tect against, the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada con­tends that, with a good match to cir­cu­lat­ing strains, the flu shot pre­vents ill­ness in 70 to 90 per cent of healthy chil­dren and adults.

Even if you do get in­fluenza, if you’ve been vac­ci­nated, you will likely have only mild symp­toms.

3. It’s safe. So-called “ad­verse events” (side ef­fects) are neg­li­gi­ble from the flu shot. And no, you can’t get the flu from get­ting the shot — so ditch that ex­cuse right now.

The only pos­si­ble wrin­kle: if you have se­ri­ous or even life-threat­en­ing al­ler­gies, your doc­tor should know as there’s a pos­si­bil­ity one of the in­gre­di­ents in the vac­cine might trig­ger it, ad­vises Carmichael.

4. It’s not enough to wash your hands. Al­though hand hy­giene cer­tainly helps, peo­ple with flu can spread it to oth­ers up to six feet away, mainly though droplets ex­pelled dur­ing cough­ing, sneez­ing or talk­ing. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of peo­ple who are nearby or pos­si­bly be in­haled into the lungs.

Less of­ten, you might get the flu by touch­ing a sur­face or ob­ject that has flu virus on it and then touch­ing your own mouth or nose.

5. It takes a while to be­come fully ef­fec­tive. You don’t want to wait un­til peo­ple are drop­ping like flies around you. It takes ap­prox­i­mately 14 days for the flu shot to be­come ef­fec­tive, Carmichael says. “So get­ting it ear­lier is bet­ter.”

6. It will help save on sick days. It’s es­ti­mated that ad­min­is­ter­ing the flu shot saves on av­er­age 200,000 physi­cian vis­its a year in On­tario, Carmichael says.

That saves the health-care sys­tem money for sure, but it can also help you pre­serve your sick days. Af­ter all, chances are good that, if you’re sick enough to go to the doc­tor, you’re not likely to show up at work.

7. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily about you. You can in­fect fam­ily, friends, co­work­ers and even oth­ers in the doc­tor’s of­fice with the flu virus.

“Hav­ing worked and been on the board of a hospi­tal, I’d like to see get­ting the flu vac­cine be­come as nat­u­ral as buck­ling your seat belt,” Carmichael says. “You just do it ev­ery fall.” 8. It’s easy to get. You don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to make an ap­point­ment for a doc­tor visit, lo­cal clin­ics and even phar­ma­cies can ad­min­is­ter the flu shot.

The caveat: “Not all of the phar­ma­cies have it yet, so call ahead to be sure,” Carmichael says.

9. It’s free. You just need a valid OHIP card in On­tario.

10. It doesn’t last for­ever. The strain of flu viruses mu­tate and change so the ef­fec­tive­ness of the flu shot wanes over time. The down­side: “You don’t have the life­time im­mu­nity that you get with other types of vac­cines,” Carmichael says.

“You have to get it ev­ery year.”

IS­TOCK

Get­ting the flu shot is not just about pro­tect­ing your­self, but those around you in­clud­ing fam­ily, friends and co-work­ers, say ex­perts.

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