Health beat

Is the flu targeting you?

Region urges those 18 to 40 to get vaccinated

Oculys and staff
Healthy people also need to be vaccinated against influenza.
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Should you get a flu shot?

BY MIKE DALY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Wave, September / October 2016

If you ask a friend in the 18 to 40 age bracket what they're doing to protect their health, you just might spend the rest of your evening hearing - in great detail - about their latest fitness regimen, or about how they're carefully watching what they eat.

In short, they'll tell you they've got a handle on their health. (And more power to them.)

But ask them whether they've taken the time to get a flu shot and you're likely to be met with nothing but stony silence. That's particularly true if your friend is a university student, a young person starting out in a career or someone whose kids are just starting school.

The problem, says Dr. Bunmi Fatoye, a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, is that people in this age group often don't see the flu as a significant health threat.

"They belong to a generally healthy demographic with little to no contact with health care, believe they do not need the vaccine, are unaware of the benefits, consider their risk low, thus, don't always view getting the flu shot as a priority. They often believe they are not going to get the flu or, if they do, that it will be a minor inconvenience," she says.

Unfortunately, the statistics tell a different story. During Manitoba's 2015/16 flu season, for example, there were 287 hospitaliza­tions, 77 admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU) and, sadly, 22 laboratory-confirmed, flu-related deaths.

And while adults in their prime tend to think they are less susceptible to flu than more vulnerable people such as seniors, children, pregnant women and anyone with a chronic health condition, that doesn't mean their risk is zero.

The statistics from 2015/16 show that people between the ages of 20 and 44 accounted for 21 per cent of flu-associated deaths, 16 per cent of hospital admissions and 18 per cent of ICU admissions.

As Fatoye explains, different strains of the flu will affect various segments of the population more than others. For example, while the H3 strains of flu tend to affect people 65 years of age and over or the very young, the H1 strains have proven trouble­some for otherwise healthy adults. But because the flu virus is always changing, it is important to get a shot every year, she says.

As for adults who feel they don't have to worry about the flu, Fatoye suggests they ask themselves some simple questions. "What other options do I have? Is it worth the gamble? Can I afford to miss school or work? What about others that I may unintentionally spread the infection to?"

By taking a few minutes to get the shot, she says, you equip yourself with antibodies that will, at the very least, help reduce the severity of the flu. "If you don't get the flu shot, you have nothing to protect you; you've left your health to chance," she adds.

To help spread the message, the Region is stepping up its efforts to educate those in the 18 to 40 age group to get vaccinated this year, with special messaging on social media and on channels such as the Region's new ConnectedCare app (available as a free download from Apple's app store), which will feature a listing of flu shot clinics being staged throughout the city this fall.

"You can't avoid coming in contact with the virus, because you can't live in a protective bubble. Wherever you go, whether it's to work or hanging out, the virus can be present."

That's a statement backed by fact. The flu virus spreads easily through droplets in the air. Those who become infected are contagious just prior to showing symptoms and up to seven days afterwards. They can spread the virus by coughing, sneezing or touching their mouth with their hand and then touching a surface, like a door knob or table top. It is estimated that the virus can last for hours on hard surfaces.

Worse still, it's estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of the population becomes infected with the flu virus each year. Roughly speaking, that adds up to between 3.5 million and seven million Canadians. Your chances of avoiding contact with every one of them are remote at best.

Fatoye says that even if people aren't concerned with contracting the flu themselves, they should get the flu shot as a means of helping others.

"Getting the flu shot will benefit them, but more importantly, it's a benefit to others such as their siblings, parents, grandparents, and their colleagues at work or school. The message is that it's not always about you, it's also about them. Each of us shares a responsibility to help prevent the spread of the flu."

Mike Daly is a communications specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

How you can reduce the spread of influenza

Get the flu shot

The best way to protect yourself and others against the flu is to get a vaccination.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands frequently throughout the day and especially before preparing food or eating, after using the washroom, and after coughing or sneezing into your hands or facial tissue. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for 15 seconds including the thumbs, under the nails and the back of the hands.

Cover your cough

Cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, or into a tissue. After you cough or sneeze into your hands or facial tissue, wash your hands. If you have any symptoms of influenza, especially a new or worsening cough, avoid contact with others. Consider limiting personal greetings such as hand shaking, hugging, and kissing.

Wave: September / October 2016

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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