Today's blogger is Dr. Perry Kendall. He's BC's Provincial Health Officer.
He has a passion for public health and was awarded the Order of British Columbia for his contributions to Public Health practice and to harm reduction policy and practice in BC.
Thanks for joining us Dr. Kendall!Flu season is coming and we want you to be prepared. As you drag your warm clothes out of closets, bring the big boots out of hiding and turn up the thermostat, remember that colder weather often means the start of flu season.
For most of us, the influenza virus brings unpleasant symptoms such as fever, cough, chills, headache and joint pain some or all of which may send you to bed for a few days. The flu also means missing work and foregoing family time. However, for some people – such as the elderly, young children and those with chronic or underlying health conditions – flu season can be much more dangerous.
That is why those at heightened risk are encouraged to get the influenza vaccine each year. For them, the flu can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia, sometimes even death. It’s equally important that close family member and health care workers, who regularly interact with people at higher risk of serious complications, get vaccinated. To protect those most vulnerable in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other health care areas, we expect anyone visiting someone to wear a mask if they haven't already received the flu shot.
The influenza vaccine is available for free to those eligible. More details about eligibility can be found at the Provincial Health Officer site, "Help Fight the Flu in B.C.". If you know you will be visiting someone in a health care facility, let your health care provider know and the fee will be waived. For everyone else, influenza vaccine is available for purchase. Flu shots are available at dedicated flu clinics, but also through your family physician, local public health clinic, or many local pharmacies.
Despite the benefit that the flu shot offers, I know that some people have concerns about its use. I’d like to briefly set straight some of the most common misconceptions about the flu shot.
- The influenza vaccine does not cause the flu. In fact, the injectable public vaccine contains only inactive virus particles, so it’s not possible to get the flu from the vaccine. Common reactions include mild soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. More serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis and Guillain-Barré Syndrome are extremely rare.
- Mercury in the vaccine does NOT cause autism. Science has shown there is no link between vaccines containing thimerosal (mercury) and autism or other behavioural disorders. The alleged adverse health effect from thimerosal in vaccines has never been substantiated, and international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, share this opinion.
- It is safe to get the flu shot, even if you have mild egg or latex allergies. All products used in conjunction with the vaccine are latex free. Most people with egg allergies are able to safely get vaccinated. If you have a history of anaphylaxis to eggs, you should ensure that you receive the vaccine in a controlled setting.
Of course, there are also other ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu this season – even if you do get the vaccine, you shouldn’t forget about these basics! Wash your hands regularly, and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette. Stay home when you are feeling unwell, and try to maintain a healthy diet throughout flu season.
Get prepared and stay healthy this winter!
New this year, FluMist® is being offered as a part of the provincial program to children from two to 17 years of age. FluMist® will be available to otherwise healthy children, who may have a phobia of needles. This product is a nasal spray that provides the same, effective protection to children as the vaccine administered by needle. FluMist® is available in limited quantities. Talk to your health care professional to find out if this form of vaccine is the right one for your child.