Well, it’s November and guess what that means in the Public Health world? If you said, “Time to get my flu shot”, I would be really impressed!
The Ontario Public Health Standards require health units to track infectious diseases of public health importance, such as influenza or “the flu”. By doing this, we can track trends to see which diseases might be on the rise or decline. The public health professional who studies this information is our epidemiologist, who has special training in statistics and interpreting data.
So how do we interpret all the data we have about the flu? There are certainly lots of myths about the flu, but one of the truths is that it is a deadly disease, particularly in children under age 5 and adults over 65.
These people are considered high risk and are offered the flu vaccine first before it is available to the general public. Other high-risk groups include pregnant women, people living in nursing homes, people with some chronic diseases such as heart and lung conditions, diabetes, or people who have weakened immune systems. It’s estimated that Ontario sees 1,365 influenza-related deaths per year.
Anybody looking after someone in a high-risk group also qualifies for being first in line for the flu vaccine.
You may have heard that the flu vaccine didn’t work as well last year as we would have hoped for. That is true. Scientists study the flu bugs circulating around the world and must predict which ones will come to Canada. They don’t always get it right but most of the time they do. There are three different flu strains in the adult vaccine this year and four in the vaccine for children. The difference is because we know that one type of flu strain causes more illness in children than adults.
Speaking of kids, this year a FluMist® nasal spray vaccine is also available for two- to 17-year-olds. The Health Unit provides all primary care providers with flu vaccine for their patients. Anyone over the age of 5 can also get the flu vaccine from a number of local pharmacists.
There are limited quantities of the spray, so please call your healthcare provider or pharmacy beforehand to ensure it’s available.
Of course, as in previous years, there are a number of community clinics providing flu immunization across the county. Visit huronhealthunit.ca/flu for a list of dates and times where these flu vaccine clinics are taking place, as well as pharmacies offering the flu vaccine.
Although the flu vaccine isn’t perfect and some years that is more true than others, it is still our best defense against the flu.
I hope this explains a bit more about public health and the flu. Although we encourage everyone to get immunized, if you aren’t sure whether to get the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner.
Until next time, stay healthy and help keep those around you healthy!