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Stay healthy during the holidays with influenza vaccination

Dr. Bonnie Henry

BY DR. BONNIE HENRY

B.C. Provincial Health Officer

Your good health is the best gift to give family and friends this holiday season. A great start is getting a flu shot.

As the temperature drops and people spend more time indoors, we see a rise in influenza and influenza-related complications throughout the province.

Each year, thousands of people in Canada are hospitalized because of the flu. Immunization is one of the best ways for people to stay healthy, not only during the holidays, but year-round. It is free for many eligible British Columbians, including children between the ages of six months and five years, people 65 years and older, individuals with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems, as well as their caretakers.

Visit HealthLink’s website to find out if you are eligible for the publicly funded vaccine at: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-feature/flu-season

As the 2018-19 influenza season progresses, we expect to see more cases reported in the upcoming months. Based on what we have observed so far, influenza A H1N1 has been the predominant strain circulating in the province. This strain tends to affect predominantly young and middle-aged adults, and is why we have seen more cases reported in children and young adults than last year. Influenza vaccines historically have offered good protection against these strains, which is why I recommend all children between the ages of six months and five years, as well as adults, be immunized. A flu shot can also reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get sick – another good reason for people to roll up their sleeves and get one, if they haven’t yet.

Hospitalized patients and seniors in residential care are more vulnerable to influenza than healthy adults. To help protect them, effective Dec. 3, 2018, all health authority employees, students, physicians, residents, contractors, vendors, volunteers and visitors to health-care facilities are required to be immunized or wear a mask when in a patient care area. The vaccine is offered free for these groups as well.

To find the nearest flu shot clinic, call HealthLink BC at 811 or visit the Influenza Clinic Finder at: www.immunizebc.ca/clinics/flu

In addition to getting the flu shot, you should also clean your hands regularly (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs). If you do get sick, cover your mouth when you cough or cough into your sleeve, stay home and avoid public areas, especially health care facilities, to keep the influenza bug from others.

A century ago, a deadly flu ravaged the world’s population, infecting an estimated 50 million people. As Canadians mark the anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, it’s a reminder of the importance of influenza immunization in protecting people’s health and lives. Lessons learned from the Spanish Flu led to the evolution of public health in Canada, the creation of the first federal Department of Health in 1919 and more co-ordinated efforts between all levels of government across provinces and territories.

It was one of the topics that health officials across Canada discussed at the bi-annual Canadian Immunization Conference in Ottawa earlier this month. An interesting documentary premiered at the conference, Unmasking Influenza. It explores the history of Spanish Flu, and if Canada is ready for a similar pandemic if it happens today. The documentary is now available on the Cable Public Affairs Channel website at: http://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/documentaries/episodes/65800610