While colder weather and shorter days go hand in hand with wintertime, catching the flu doesn’t have to, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.
“For healthy people, falling sick with the flu means a few days of feeling miserable, but for young children, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, it can lead to hospitalization and ICU admissions,” says VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Martiquet. “We’re encouraging everyone to get a flu shot so you’re not only protecting yourself, but also the high-risk people around you.”
Influenza is highly contagious and can cause serious complications for individuals with weakened immune systems. Every year across Canada, between 4,000 and 8,000 people die from complications due to the flu and pneumonia, and 90 per cent of those who die are seniors.
“In Canada, influenza causes the most deaths among vaccine-preventable diseases, outpacing all others combined,” says Dr. Martiquet. “You can spread the flu for up to 24 hours before you have any symptoms, so you can pass it on before you even know you’re sick. Getting the flu shot is the best way to prevent catching it or passing it on.”
Flu shots are recommended for everyone. They are free in B.C. for all children from six months to five years of age, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, Aboriginal people, and those with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems. The vaccine is also important for anyone who lives or works with a person who is at higher risk of problems from the flu.
To protect patients in health care facilities, all B.C. health authorities require that doctors, staff, students and volunteers get immunized or wear a mask while at work during the flu season. To further protect patients, VCH is also asking visitors to our facilities do the same. Masks will be available at nursing stations and/or outpatient reception desks. People planning to visit loved ones in a health care facility or who will take family members to outpatient appointments are also eligible for a free flu shot.
The influenza vaccine works by developing antibodies within two weeks of getting the shot. These antibodies protect against flu viruses circulating in the community. “Since the flu shot contains inactivated virus, it can’t make you sick. The most likely side effect of the shot is a sore arm,” Dr. Martiquet explains. “FluMist, which is a nasal spray flu vaccine, contains weakened flu virus and its most common side effect is a runny nose.”
Flu vaccinations are available at special public health flu clinics, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, walk-in clinics and at the VCH Travel Clinic. Flu clinics throughout the VCH region have already begun; more information can be found on VCH’s Flu Shots & Clinics page. Information on other flu clinics in the community can be located at ImmunizeBC.ca.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.2 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.