Stop the hesitation, get the vaccination

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Community & Infection Control Association – Canada (CHICA-Canada) continue to declare the third week of October as Infection Control Week. During this week, CHICA-Canada, in conjunction with local health-care facilities and community agencies, promote the many aspects of infection prevention and control.

CHICA-Canada is a national, multidisciplinary, voluntary association of professionals committed to improving the health of Canadians by promoting excellence in the practice of infection prevention and control. This is done by employing evidence based practice and applying epidemiological principles of disease transmission. Members educate, communicate, develop standards, and participate in research.

CHICA-Canada includes 19 chapters across the country with a total membership of 837. Each year a different theme is chosen for Infection Control Week. This year’s theme is “Stop the hesitation, get the vaccination.” It was submitted by the Toronto and Area Professionals in Infection Control (TPIC), a chapter of CHICA-Canada. An important vaccine to get at this time of year is the one preventing influenza.

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract in humans (nose, throat, and lungs). Symptoms usually come on suddenly and may include the following: fever, headache, tiredness, (may be extreme), dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches. Most people will recover in 1-2 weeks, but some people will develop life-threatening complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu. People over 65 years of age, of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from the flu. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are three examples of complications from the flu.

The disease is transmitted when a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes, or speaks and sends flu viruses into the air, and other people inhale the virus. The virus enters the nose, throat, or lungs of a person and begins to multiply, causing symptoms of the flu. Flu may, less often, be spread when a person touches a surface that has flu viruses on it such as a door handle, and touches his or her nose or mouth. A person can spread the flu starting one day before they feel sick. Adults can continue to pass the flu virus to others for another 3-7 days after symptoms start. Children can pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1-4 days after the virus enters the body. During this time, those persons can still spread the virus to others.

The flu season is usually from November to April. The best way to prevent the flu is to get an influenza vaccine each fall, before the flu season starts.

The influenza vaccine is available to residents in Ontario free of charge, although it is not recommended under the age of 6 months. You should consider getting the vaccine if you meet or are in close contact with anyone who meets one of the following criteria:

  • adults and children with chronic cardiac or pulmonary disorders (including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis, and asthma) severe enough to require regular medical follow-up or hospital care
  • people of any age who are residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities
  • people over 65 years of age
  • adults and children with chronic conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and other metabolic diseases, cancer, immunosuppression (due to underlying disease and/or therapy), renal disease and hemoglobinopathy
  • children and adolescents (age 6 months to 18 years) with conditions treated for long periods with acetylsalicylic acid
  • persons infected with HIV
  • people at high risk of influenza complications embarking on travel to destinations where influenza is likely to be circulating

Some people who should be vaccinated for influenza often do not due to existing “myths”. Here are some of them:

Flu is merely a nuisance
Wrong, Flu is a major cause of disease which can also lead to death

Flu shots cause the flu
Wrong. The flu vaccine is made from inactivated or killed flu viruses, cannot cause the flu and does not cause flu illness

Flu shots don’t work

Not exactly. When the killed viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are similar, the flu shot is very effective. There are several reasons why people think flu shots don’t work. People who have gotten a flu shot may then get sick from a different virus that causes respiratory illness but is mistaken for flu; the flu shot only prevents illness caused by the influenza virus. In addition, protection from the vaccine is not 100%. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine is not 100%. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine to be 70-90% effective in preventing the flu. In the elderly and those with certain long-term medical conditions, the flu shot is often less effective in preventing illness. However, in the elderly, flu vaccine is very effective in reducing hospitalization and death from flu-related causes.

There is no need to get a flu shot every year

Wrong. The flu viruses are constantly changing. Generally, new influenza virus strains circulate every flu season, so the vaccine is changed each year.

I hope this information will assist you in making an informed decision.