Get ready for cold and flu season
(News Canada) — Influenza, or the flu, is a very contagious infection caused by viruses. We all know it can cause a mild to severe infection in the nose, sinuses, throat and lungs. But there are some misconceptions on what the flu is, how you can catch it and how to treat and prevent it. With the risk of infections increasing in the fall and peaking in the winter, The Lung Association shares some essential information on this seasonal headache.
It is estimated that between 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians are infected with the flu each year, causing 175,000 emergency room visits, 12,200 influenza-related hospitalizations and even 3,500 influenza-related deaths. That’s why now is a good time to consider how a simple shot could go a long way with your health. In Ontario alone, every year the flu shot eliminates approximately 30,000 visits to hospital emergency departments and prevents approximately 300 deaths.
For people aged 65 years and over, the risk for influenza-attributed death is 12 times greater among those with chronic lung diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 20 times greater among those with both chronic heart and lung conditions.
After stroke and congestive heart failure, influenza and pneumonia (a complication of influenza) are the leading causes of catastrophic disability — a devastating illness or accident that can leave you requiring extra assistance that you didn’t need before. The flu shot is highly recommended for high-risk groups with the highest influenza rates, including children ages five to nine, adults 65 years and older, and those with underlying medical conditions. Different vaccination options are available for seniors. Here are common ways you can get infected with the flu virus, so you know what to avoid:
- When someone infected with the flu talks, sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets of secretions become airborne. These droplets can land in your nose, mouth, sinuses or lungs and cause an infection.
- Touching a surface that is infected with the flu virus (door handles, light switches, hand rails) and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.
- Sharing infected objects (utensils, cups) with someone who has the flu infection. Find more information online at lungontario.ca/vaccines. Coughing, fever, sweats, chills and feeling unwell are all symptoms of the flu. They should not be taken lightly.
Although flu infections can occur at any time throughout the year, the risk increases in the fall and peaks in the winter. Two or three strains make the rounds every year. Not only is the viral infection vicious, it can be lethal in otherwise healthy people. Experts say the best way to guard against the seasonal scourge and influenza-related pneumonia is to get the flu shot. But it isn’t a one-and-done deal. Influenza is cunning and constantly mutates, potentially dodging last year’s vaccine. That’s why anyone over six months old who lives, works or attends school in Ontario should get an up-todate shot each year.
The Lung Association especially recommends the flu vaccination for people who are at higher risk and those who have regular contact with people at higher risk. Those at higher risk from the flu include very young children, seniors, pregnant women, Indigenous peoples, residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities, and people with health conditions such as lung diseases.
Getting the flu vaccination also helps reduce the risk that you will spread the flu to others in your family and community who may be at a higher risk of serious complications. The more people who get the shot in your community, the less risk to everyone of getting the flu. This is called “herd immunity” or “community immunity.”
In individuals aged 65 and older, the immune system response to the flu vaccine is not as strong as it is in younger people. If you’re in that age group, you may get more benefit from the high-dose flu vaccination, which has four times the usual dose.
With flu season upon us, the question of whether to get vaccinated or not is one many people are trying to answer. Here, The Lung Association clears up some myths to help you make an informed decision.
- Even if you had the flu shot once, you need it again. The viruses that cause the infection can change slightly each year, so the vaccine must also change to match them. A person’s immune protection from vaccination also declines over time.
- There’s more than one flu shot available. Those 65 and older should speak with their healthcare provider to find out which vaccine is right for them, as this age group typically doesn’t respond to vaccines as well as younger adults.
- Getting the flu shot will not give you the flu. The vaccine you receive either has an inactivated virus or does not contain one at all and therefore cannot give you the flu. If you develop influenza within two weeks of getting your shot, it is likely that you already had the virus prior to vaccination. It can also be a result of your body’s immune response to a foreign substance. However, the most common reactions to the vaccine itself are less severe than symptoms of the actual flu.
- You need the shot even if you are healthy. If you’re 65 or older, your immune system is weakening naturally, making you more susceptible to the virus. If you’re younger than 65, getting the shot also helps protect more vulnerable populations like pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses from contracting the flu from you.
- The flu shot is 50 to 60 per cent effective in preventing the flu in healthy adults. Although some people who get the vaccination may still get sick, the flu tends to be milder than if they didn’t, which reduces the risk of serious complications. Find out more information online at http://lungontario.ca/protect-your-breathing/vaccines/