HEALTH: 10 reasons you should the flu shot now

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A little jab will do ya !

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Influenza symptoms can be especially serious and deadly for children and the elderly

CAMILLA CORNELL
SPECIAL TO THE STAR

It’s that time again. Time to get your flu shot.

And though you may be one of those who would rather be featured on My Strange Addiction than get a needle, you’d be wise to conquer your fears and get yourself to a pharmacy or doctor’s office.

Here’s why:

1 You shouldn’t mess around with influenza. The flu is a highly contagious virus that infects millions of Canadians annually. “It can be serious even for people who are healthy,” says Diane Carmichael, a longtime health-care veteran and board member for the advocacy organization Patients Canada

“But it’s particularly serious for children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system.”

People with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are particularly vulnerable, Carmichael adds. And those conditions become more common in people over 50 years of age.

In fact, the US. Centers for Disease Control specifies that during a vaccine shortage, adults aged 50-plus should be prioritized for the shot. Although most people recover from the flu in about a week, some 12,500 per year end up in hospital with com­plications such as pneumonia and about 3,500 die annually, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In fact, stats show every year, influenza kills more Canadians than all other vaccine-preventable illnesses combined.

Adds Carmichael: “This isn’t the common cold – you just feel like crap!”

  1. It works, at least most of the time. Each February, the World Health Organization chooses which flu strains to include in the seasonal flu vaccine, based on the flu viruses circulating at that time. Essentially, scientists are trying to peer into the future, which means some years’ shots are more effective than others. But, although you could get a flu strain that this year’s vaccine won’t protect against, the Public Health Agency of Canada contends that, with a good match to circulating strains, the flu shot prevents illness in 70 to 90 per cent of healthy children and adults.

Even if you do get influenza, if you’ve been vaccinated, you will likely have only mild symptoms.

  1. It’s safe. So-called “adverse events” (side effects) are negligible from the flu shot. And no, you can’t get the flu from getting the shot – so ditch that excuse right now.

The only possible wrinkle: if you have serious or even life-threatening allergies, your doctor should know as there’s a possibility one of the ingredients in the vaccine might trigger it, advises Carmichael.

  1. It’s not enough to wash your hands. Although hand hygiene certainly helps, people with flu can spread it to others up to six feet away, mainly though droplets expelled during coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Less often, you might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose.

  1. It takes a while to become fully effective. You don’t want to wait until people are dropping like flies around you. It takes approximately 14 days for the flu shot to become effective, Carmichael says. “So getting it earlier is better.”
  2. It will help save on sick days. It’s estimated that administering the flu shot saves on average 200,000 physician visits a year in Ontario Carmichael says.

That saves the health-care system money for sure, but it can also help you preserve your sick days. After all chances are good that, if you’re sick enough to go to the doctor, you’re not likely to show up at work or elsewhere where you normally go.

  1. It’s not necessarily about you. You can infect family, friends, co- workers and even others in the doctor’s office with the flu virus.

“Having worked and been on the board of a hospital, I’d like to see getting the flu vaccine become as natural as buckling your seat belt,” Carmichael says.

“You just do it every fall”

  1. It’s easy to get. You don’t necessarily have to make an appointment for a doctor visit, local clinics and even pharmacies can administer the flu shot.

The caveat: “Not all of the pharmacies have it yet, so call ahead to be sure,” Carmichael says.

  1. It’s free. You just need a valid OHIP card in Ontario.
  2. It doesn’t last forever. The strain of flu viruses mutate and change so the effectiveness of the flu shot wanes over time. The downside: “You don’t have the lifetime immunity that you get with other types of vaccines,” Carmichael says.

“You have to get it every year.”

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