Your Health

Getting the flu shot this year should be the easy choice

Photo of teen girl carrying a heavy backpack.
Photo of Dr. Bunmi Fatoye. DR. BUNMI FATOYE
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 13, 2017

With 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 a 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.

Given 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 of it 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 – those 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 predominate 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 and 20. For more information, visit www.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 is, of course, no guarantee that 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.  

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, October 13, 2017.

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