Doctors urging vaccinations as flu season hits

SURREY — Coming down with the common cold may be unavoidable this winter but health care professionals are urging people to vaccinate themselves against the flu.

Up to 20,000 people nationwide are hospitalized from illnesses related to the influenza each year, resulting in 4,000 deaths, the largest number of fatalities from a preventable disease in Canada.

Michelle Murti, medical health officer with Fraser Health responsible for Delta, White Rock and South Surrey, says more people are getting vaccinated now that the flu shot is more readily available in pharmacies and walk-in clinics.

Flu shots are recommended for everyone and are free in B.C. for all children from six months to five years of age, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, aboriginal people, people with chronic health conditions and those with compromised immune systems. The vaccine is also important for anyone who lives or works with a person who is at higher risk of health complications from the flu. 

"It’s a community immunity phenomenon. So even if people are high-risk in your home, it’s not just enough for them to be vaccinated, it’s important for them not to be exposed to the flu," said Murti.

Children also have the option of getting the Flumist nasal spray instead of the shot. Even pregnant women are encouraged to inoculate themselves.

Last year, several pregnant women across the Fraser region were committed to intensive care after contracting the flu. Murti said the physiological changes that happen during pregnancy can make women more susceptible to the flu. The vaccine causes a lower chance of babies born pre-term or undersized.

"It really is the safer thing, both for mom and for baby, to get the flu shot at any stage of the pregnancy."

Murti said there are sometimes mild reactions to the vaccine, such as localized redness and swelling around the injection, while others will feel mild symptoms of a low-grade fever but it usually clears up within 24 hours. She warned the risk of not being vaccinated outweighs any short-term side effects.

"You know when you have the flu people are off their feet, exhausted, tired, everything’s aching. It’s a pretty dramatic illness."

For a complete list of flu clinics near you, visit Bring your CareCard or other government I.D. (valid driver’s license) to the clinic, and wear a short-sleeved shirt.

(Editor’s note — An earlier version of this story stated 20,000 Canadians contract the flu every year, resulting in 4,000 deaths. In fact, there are 20,000 hospitalizations each year for illnesses related to influenza, with between 4,000 to 8,000 deaths due to pneumonia or other serious complications arising from influenza. For direct statistics, however, in 2013-14, there were just over 5,000 hospitalizations for the flu, with about 325 deaths.)

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada: "The true burden of influenza is difficult to assess for several reasons. Influenza infection not only causes primary illness but can also lead to severe secondary medical complications, including viral pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia and worsening of underlying medical conditions.")

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