By: Parvaneh Pessian
DURHAM -- Durham Region’s health department has launched its annual influenza vaccination campaign, encouraging members of the public to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting the flu shot.
The campaign was launched Monday with information about quadrivalent flu vaccines, which are also publicly funded this year for children and adolescents from six months up to 17 years of age. Quadrivalent flu vaccines offer protection against an extra B-strain of the flu virus that affects youth more frequently than adults.
There are two types of quadrivalent flu vaccines: the type given by injection and FluMist Quadrivalent, given by nasal spray. FluMist Quadrivalent is available for children and adolescents ages 2-17. The flu vaccine for adults will remain available in an injectable form, with protection against the three flu viruses most likely to circulate during the flu season.
“The typical (flu) season is October until April so we encourage people to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Ashley Wilson, public health nurse at the Region of Durham.
The flu is a respiratory infection caused by influenza A or B viruses, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Symptoms typically include the sudden onset of headache, chills, cough, fever, loss of appetite, myalgia, fatigue, coryza, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, especially in children.
Every year, 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians get sick with the flu. While most people recover within a week to 10 days, some -- such as those 65 years of age and older, and adults and children with chronic conditions -- are at higher risk of more severe complications. It’s estimated that upwards of 12,000 Canadians are hospitalized and about 3,500 die as a result of the flu each year.
“Even though a lot of us get the flu, I think we sometimes forget that people can have serious complications ... so it’s important for all of us to get the shot,” explained Ms. Wilson.
“(For the) elderly and young children and people with chronic health conditions, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia and in some severe cases, death. So, we’re preventing the spread by getting the flu shot and preventing the illness in ourselves.”
Last year was a particularly bad year for the flu in Durham. From Aug. 30, 2014 to Aug. 28, 2015, there were 421 laboratory confirmed flu cases in the region -- up from 317 in the 2013-2014 season.
Ms. Wilson attributes the increase to the type of strains that were circulating. Each year the flu vaccine is created in the spring and manufactured in the summer for distribution in the fall. If the virus mutates between spring and fall, it’s less effective.
“It’s kind of hard to tell what we’re going to see this year because it changes every year,” she said.
“The circulating strains are different because the virus unfortunately mutates a lot so it’s too early to tell what’s going to be circulating here until we start getting confirmed cases.”
When the flu vaccine is well matched to circulating viruses, it can be between 60 to 80 per cent effective, she added.
“On average, over the years when you look at it, it’s 50 per cent effective but when you’re looking at how many people are affected by influenza, that’s still a good rate and still important to get (the flu shot).”
The flu vaccine will be widely available in Durham through local health care providers, as well as participating pharmacies that will administer the flu shot to those over the age of five. The Region’s health department is not offering community flu shot clinics this year due to decreased attendance numbers in previous years, likely resulting from greater public access to other vaccination providers.
According to research conducted by the Neighbourhood Pharmacies Association of Canada for the 2014-2015 season, a growing number of Canadians are opting to receive their flu shot at their local pharmacy due to speed and convenience. Ninety per cent of survey respondents walked in without an appointment and 88 per cent reported waiting less than 10 minutes for their vaccination. Seventy-one per cent of respondents said they chose the pharmacy because of its convenient location.
“The success of the pharmacy flu vaccination program has important public health impacts that result in more Canadians being protected against this underestimated disease,” said Denise Carpenter, president and CEO of Neighbourhood Pharmacies.
“That means fewer people suffering, reduced health care costs resulting from hospitalizations and reduced economic losses from time away from work, including deaths.”
More than half of those who received a flu vaccination at a pharmacy last season were also new to the experience. Twenty per cent of those surveyed hadn’t received a flu vaccination the previous season and 29 per cent had switched to getting the shot at a pharmacy compared to other vaccination providers.
To find the flu shot clinic closest to you, visit www.ontario.ca/page/flu-clinics . For more information about the flu, visit www.durham.ca/flu or call the Durham Health Connection Line at 905-666-6241 or 1-800-841-2729.
HOW THIS IMPACTS YOU
• The flu is a serious respiratory illness that affects 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians every year. An estimated 12,200 Canadians are hospitalized and about 3,500 die as a result of the flu each year.
• Individuals who are considered at high risk of complications from the flu include young children, adults over 65, adults in long-term care homes, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses such as heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, or weakened immune systems.
• Laboratory confirmed cases of flu in Durham have increased in recent years. There were 421 cases in the 2014-2015 season, 317 cases in the 2013-2014 season, 250 cases in the 2012-2013 season, and 111 cases in the 2011-2012 season.
• The flu spreads easily through coughing, sneezing and direct contact with unwashed hands, surfaces, or objects that have been in contact with the flu virus. Flu germs from sneezes can travel up to six feet, and the flu can live on surfaces for up to eight hours. If infected with the flu, it can be transmitted to others a day before symptoms appear. Individuals with the flu are also contagious for seven days or longer after their symptoms have resolved.
• As of Oct. 26, a nasal spray flu vaccine is available for children and youth ages 2-17 as an alternative to an injection in the arm. The spray vaccine will offer greater protection against four flu viruses instead of three. The added protection comes against an additional B-strain of the flu virus, which affects children and adolescents more frequently than adults. Parents still have the option to vaccinate their children using an injection, which is available for children ages six months to 17 and also protects against the same four viruses as the new nasal spray.