Let’s talk about the flu shot

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Paul Martiquet | November 8th, 2016

Do you normally get a flu shot around this time of the year? If you are not one of those people, this would be a good year to get started. We already know which form of the flu we face, and this year’s has already proven to be nasty and is particularly aggressive: there have already been at least six outbreaks in the Lower Mainland.

The dominant strain of flu this year is called H3N2 and is known to be especially dangerous for vulnerable people. With this particular illness, people become very sick. Almost everybody can expect to be bedridden with a fever or cough and to experience more symptoms than in recent years. Fortunately, explains the BC Center for Disease Control, this year’s vaccine is a good match and should provide good protection.

We tend to take for granted that everyone knows about the flu, but that isn’t necessarily true. The flu (influenza) is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by an influenza virus, of which there are countless variations. Symptoms of the illness include fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness and cough. Children may also experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms usually begin one to four days after first exposure. Fever and other symptoms may last up to seven to ten days; the cough and weakness up to two more weeks.

We recently overheard someone in a café stating with confidence that “getting the flu shot means you are more likely to get the flu.” This is just one example of the misinformation out there, and it is absolutely wrong; oh, and vaccinations are not a plan by big pharmaceutical companies to profit… a conspiracy theory that is rampant on social media.

While the flu shot is a good idea for everyone, some groups are especially susceptible. These include pregnant women, older seniors, very young children, people who have lung or heart diseases and certain chronic health problems, and those with weakened immune systems. Vaccination is also a good idea for anyone who comes into regular contact with these people, after all, you don’t want to be the one who infected a vulnerable person, do you? There is a supply of publicly funded vaccine available for those who qualify based on the description above.

Each year about 3,500 people across Canada die from influenza and its related complications. One of the most effective tools is the annual flu shot. Because of changes in the virus, vaccines are created each year in response to the strains we expect to be facing. We can do this because we can watch the progression of the virus from the far east where it usually first develops. Over the next months the disease makes its way to North America. This provides lead time to study the various strains and to devise and prepare a vaccine that will protect against as many as three to four strains: that’s our flu shot. This year’s vaccine protects against three strains; the children’s version, against four.

To learn more about influenza and this year’s vaccine, visit Vancouver Coastal Health or the BC Center for Disease Control.

And by the way, if you are thinking about holding off until you see flu around you, don’t. It takes about two weeks to be fully protected after getting the shot. Flu shots are available at your doctor’s office, walk-in clinics, pharmacies or at Vancouver Coastal Health flu clinics.

About the Author

Paul Martiquet
email iconPaul.Martiquet@vch.ca  

Educated at McGill and the University of Toronto, Dr. Martiquet practiced family medicine in Ontario before moving into the field of community medicine. As Medical Health Officer for rural Vancouver Coastal Health he works to improve the community’s health by providing support and advice about epidemiology, health promotion, disease prevention and public health protection.

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