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How to stay healthy during flu season

Published by: LifeWorks,


It’s that time of year again, when millions of people in the U.S. and Canada become ill, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and tens of thousands of die. In most cases the flu virus means a week of misery. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the flu can lead to very serious complications, particularly for the very young, the very old, and those who have certain health conditions. The best ways to protect yourself and your family against the flu are to get vaccinated and to practice good hygiene by following the steps below:

The flu vaccine
Protecting yourself against the flu begins with getting vaccinated each fall.

For the 2017-2018 season the CDC is recommending the flu shot—given by needle injection—and not the nasal spray vaccine as in past years (due to lack of efficacy). The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.

Flu vaccine protects against either three or four strains of flu, depending on whether the vaccine is trivalent or quadrivalent. Quadrivalent vaccine is likely to be in shorter supply and may cost more. The CDC advises consumers not to worry about which type they are getting—just getting a flu vaccine is the important thing.

About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that protect against influenza viral infection develop. The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu and is very safe. Most people have no reaction to the vaccine at all. However, some people experience a sore arm, fever, or sore muscles after getting the flu shot. Because this is not a live virus vaccine, it is medically impossible for a person to become ill with the flu following the vaccine.

It’s important to realize that the flu vaccine does not provide 100% protection against the flu. There are various types of flu virus, and these viruses can change from year to year. Each year, scientists decide well in advance of flu season which strains of the virus to include in the vaccine. Their decision is based on which strains of the flu they believe are most likely to show up that year. If their choice is right, the vaccine can be up to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy people under 65 years of age.

A higher-strength flu shot is available for adults 65 years of age and older. Getting the vaccine is important for people in this age group because the vaccine may help adults to have milder symptoms and lessen the risk of complications from the flu.

Who should get the flu vaccine?
On its website for flu information, Health Canada recommends that, with certain exceptions, everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine.

Because they have a higher risk of developing flu-related problems or live with or care for people who have a higher risk, it is especially important that people in the following groups get vaccinated:

Pregnant women
all children should receive the flu vaccine. (Special consideration should be given to children younger than 5 years old, and especially those younger than 2 years old. If this is their first year to receive the flu vaccine or if they have received a total of only one dose of the vaccine before, children under age 9 will need two doses this year.)

People 65 years old or older
people who have certain medical conditions, including asthma, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, kidney disorders, endocrine disorders, diabetes, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, a weakened immune system (due to medication or disease), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), people who are morbidly obese (having a body mass index of over 40), and those under 19 who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy

People who live or work in nursing homes or long-term care facilities

People who live with or care for those at high risk for flu-related complications, including health care workers and household contacts of people at high risk for complications from flu, such as caregivers of children under the age of 5, and especially under the age of 6 months

People who should not get the flu vaccine include the following:
People who have experienced a severe reaction to a previous flu shot (This does not include fever or a mild illness shortly after receiving the vaccine.)

People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of receiving a flu shot

Babies younger than 6 months old

People who have a serious illness at the time they are scheduled to receive the shot (If you would otherwise fall into a priority group as listed above, you should reschedule your vaccination as soon as you’re recovered.)

People with chicken egg allergies should consult with their primary care provider or allergist about whether it is safe for them to receive the flu vaccine. Most physicians now agree that people with such allergies may receive the injectable vaccine, but this should not be done without consultation with your health care provider.

Talk with your health care provider about when to get the vaccine and which type of vaccine is better for you. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May, but it typically peaks in December, January, and February. Search Flu Clinics and Resources to learn where the vaccine is available in your area.

Protecting yourself against the flu
In addition to getting vaccinated, you can also protect yourself against the flu by practising good hygiene. Avoid close contact with those who are sick, and be sure to wash your hands often. Also avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. You can lessen the chances of passing the flu on to others by staying home when you are sick, disposing of used tissues carefully, and coughing or sneezing into the crook of your arm rather than your hands. Also, teach children to cough into the crook of their arms, and be sure they wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. Other ways to protect yourself and your family include sterilizing toothbrushes in the dishwasher weekly and using bleach wipes to clean faucets and doorknobs daily.

The best defense against any type of flu is to get vaccinated, take good care of yourself, avoid close contact with those who are sick, and wash your hands frequently. It is also important to stay aware of any flu outbreaks in your area and carefully follow any related health advisories.

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug if you were exposed to the flu or if you start showing flu-like symptoms. Antiviral drugs may help slow the reproduction of the flu virus in your body. They work most effectively if taken within two days of developing symptoms or exposure. People with underlying health conditions are more likely to be treated by a health care provider with antiviral medications.

One other note is that a vaccine has not yet been developed for H3N2v, a newer variant of the H3N2 seasonal flu virus, which usually spreads from infected pigs to humans. H3N2v can also spread from one person to another through coughing or sneezing, although this is rare. For protection against the H3N2v virus, the CDC recommends that people at high risk for serious flu complications avoid pigs and swine barns, for example, at state or county fairs. This recommendation applies to pregnant women, children younger than age 5, adults ages 65 and older, and people with certain medical conditions (such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system).

If you get sick with the flu, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. If you have any respiratory problems, such as asthma, or if you’re at risk for complications from the flu, visit your health care provider as soon as possible.

For more information about the flu, visit https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza.html.

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