Public health nurse Lisa Halliwell gives a flu shot to Danielle Wonderham while her two-year-old son Evan patiently waits his turn at Thursday’s clinic at Saanich Commonwealth Place. Dan Ebenal/Black Press

Island entering peak of flu season

Island Health says flu shots the best prevention against the virus

Its the season for coughs and sniffles. That’s why Island Health is urging residents to roll up their sleeves and get their flu shots.

“We know that influenza is responsible for many illnesses every season, and can lead to complications or hospitalizations or even death. That’s why we have a public immunization program every season,” said Dee Hoyano, medical health officer with Island Health.

Recent statistics suggest the flu is responsible for 12,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths each year in Canada.

Hoyano said it’s especially important for seniors, children under five, pregnant woman and those with serious health conditions to be immunized against influenza.

“The groups that are the most at risk are the ones who may suffer the most serious effects of flu – pneumonia is one of the most common things, but it can also make other conditions worse, like heart conditions,” she said.

“There’s quite a long list of conditions – not necessarily things that people would think of as serious health conditions, like asthma for instance. An influenza infection can make them very sick.”

And the worst is still ahead, as Hoyano said peak flu season generally hits toward the end of the year and into early January.

“Right now we’re at levels we expected. We’re not seeing signs that we’re having a lot of early activity, but we definitely expect the amount of flu circulating to go up over the next month,” Hoyano said.

Close to 250,000 doses of vaccine have been sent out this year by Island Health, which serves a population of about 765,000, but Hoyano doesn’t know how many of those doses have been distributed in vaccines.

And even those who have received the vaccine aren’t necessarily protected against the most prevalent strains.

“I wouldn’t call it a shot in the dark. There’s a lot of consideration given to what strains are predicted to be the most likely to be around,” said Hoyano, adding the vaccine must be produced before it is known what strains will be the most common.

While it is still too early to say which strain will be most prevalent this year, Hoyano said the Influenza B strain that is being seen frequently here on the Island is covered in the four-strain vaccination given primarily to children but not the three-strain dose most adults receive.

“It’s too early in the season to say [what the vaccine effectiveness will be]. Last year it was in the range of 30 to 40 per cent reduction in risk,” said Hoyano, adding that the flu shot is just one way to prevent illness.

She also recommends washing your hands frequently, staying home from work when you’re sick and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

While it may not be perfect, Hoyano said the flu vaccine is the best method available to protect yourself and those around you from the flu.

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