Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Jordan Schulz.

Welcome to the 2018/19 flu season. It arrives each year with a bit of fanfare. Signs that say “Get your flu shot now!” are scattered across hospitals and pharmacies across Canada and a slew of news reports look ahead at what to expect.

About 10 to 20 percent of the population will get the flu, sidelining them from daily activities until they can recover. For a healthy adult, it usually takes a few days. Others, including pregnant women, children under the age of 5, older people and those with chronic medical conditions will need longer periods to bounce back. They are the most vulnerable to serious health risks of the flu.

The formulation of flu shots change every year according to what strains are active. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Queen’s University.

Unfortunately, it can be deadly for some. Flu remains the sixth leading cause of death in this country. More than 3,500 Canadians lose their lives annually and more than 12,200 are hospitalized because of the flu. But there is something simple you can to protect yourself and those around you. Doctors and health-care professionals like pharmacists strongly recommended getting a shot every year well in advance of when flu season kicks into high gear around December/January. Without a doubt, it is the most effective way to avoid getting the flu and minimizing its effects.

The key is to get a flu shot before you need it. It needs a few weeks to become effective. A flu shot introduces an inactivated version of the flu virus to your body, which is then spurred into action busily producing antibodies that will help ward off future infections.

Every year the ‘recipe’ for the flu shot is different, depending on what kind of strains are in play. There’s a bit of guesswork involved since experts are making calculated predictions on what those strains will be for the upcoming flu season.

For 2018/2019, adults over the age of 65 can get a higher-dose vaccine, which offers protection against three strains of flu. These particular shots are available through physicians and nurse practitioners, but not through pharmacies (although in most provinces they can give regular flu shots). Contact your local public health unit for more information. Also check the Government of Canada’s list of flu clinics across the country here.

Despite the proven benefits of the flu shot, many Canadians still hesitate getting one. The reasons vary, but some feel that they don’t work because they know someone who did get the flu shot and still got sick. That’s not the case. The flu shot is working, but ensuring that you get a milder version of the flu. Flu shots have an exceptional and long safety record with proven effectiveness.

Others feel that having a flu shot gives them the flu. Again, not true. Just a small percentage of people may get very mild symptoms for a day or so. Some people will say that they never get the flu. There’s a bigger picture that is being missed. It’s not just about your health. It’s about public health. You don’t know who you might contaminate or endanger, whether it’s your neighbour, an older aunt, or fellow shoppers at the grocery store. Experts call getting vaccinated for the benefit of broader public health herd immunity.

Getting immunized is something every Canadian can do to help their fellow citizens. It’s the key principle behind offering flu shots across the country to all Canadians ages six months and up – often at no charge to citizens in places like Ontario. In that province alone, pharmacists gave more than a million flu shots last year.

Going to your pharmacy is an easy option. No appointment necessary and you’ll have a chance to ask any questions you might have and to discuss any contraindications with trained staff before you get your flu shot. Just bring your health card.

Don’t take a risk with your health. Protect yourself and those around you and get your flu shot early in the season. It’s part of being a good Canadian.

Your mom was right: Wash your hands and cover your mouth when sneezing helps stop the spread of disease. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, jar [].
The golden rules of flu prevention and not infecting others

  • Wash your hands often and not a quick rinse either. Soap up and rinse your hands for at least 15 seconds. Or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze. That’s not just good manners. It’s essential for stopping the spread of disease. Use a tissue, then throw it out. Don’t stash it in your pocket for later. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.
  • Hands off your face. Flu virus spreads through tiny droplets that enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items. The flu virus can live for up to 48 hours on hard surfaces, like door handles, computer key pads, and bathroom taps.