Islanders lining up to get flu vaccination

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Nancy MacPhee
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Bird flu death in Alberta may be prompting some to get the shot, says chief health officer

SUMMERSIDE — The demand for the influenza vaccine has slowed little with the start of the new year, which is surprising to the province’s chief health officer.

Islanders are still seeking out the flu shot.

The number of Islanders seeking the vaccination usually drops off after Christmas, but Dr. Heather Morrison said that’s not the case this year.

She said that Public Health Nursing is fielding dozens of calls daily from Islanders seeking information on where and when they can get vaccinated.

“They are not getting as many calls per day now as they were when the flu hotline first opened, but they continue to have a strong volume of calls, which would have petered out by now,” said the chief health officer. “They are trying to just accommodate as many clinics and as many people as they can.”

Morrison said a rise in H1N1 cases in Western Canada and the reported death last week of an Alberta woman who contracted H5N1, better known as the bird flu, may be prompting more people to get vaccinated against the flu this season.

“The H5N1 death is really an isolated case. It is extremely low risk of human transmission,” she said, adding that death shouldn’t be cause for alarm for Islanders. “That person did have foreign travel. The risk of transmission from human to human here is really low.”

Morrison also noted, “The media coverage out west probably has contributed to an increased demand in vaccines across the country. I look at that as a good thing. I think they have, anecdotally, been vaccinating some people prior to them going back out west.”

To date, there have been nine lab-confirmed cases of the flu on the Island, but she said that its likely many more cases that have gone unreported.  

“There has been increased vaccine uptake here but also right across the country. That’s excellent,” said Morrison. “It means that more people are vaccinated.”

Influenza season is a given each year and with it flu-related deaths.

This year, said Morrison, the flu seems to have hit a younger demographic than in past year, striking young adults, which is what is happening in the west.

“That’s what is making this season a little bit different across the country,” she added. “This year’s vaccine, there are two influenza A strains – and that’s the H3N2 strain and also the H1N1 strain – and we also have an influenza B strain.”

These are the strains of flu that are currently circulating throughout the country.

“We are definitely seeing more of the influenza A H1N1 than we did last year,” said Morrison. “Last year, we saw more H3N2.”

Symptoms of the flu are fever, sore throat, cough, aches, pains and fatigue.

High-risk groups are those aged six to five years, those over 65, people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and those who have direct contact with them and health-care workers. People in these categories can get the vaccine for free, while the cost to all other Islanders is $7.

“Once you get the flu vaccine it takes a few weeks for it to be truly effective. You want people to be vaccinated, really, before the season is here in full force,” said Morrison.

She wants as many Islanders as possible to get the vaccine.

“I am always concerned about an influenza season and then wanting to protect Islanders and get messages out for them to protect themselves as best as they can. That’s why, despite some of the attention out west, the message really this influenza season isn’t really any different than other seasons. We’re still worried about anyone that gets sick with influenza.”

Morrison cautioned that the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective.

“But it is certainly the best way to try and prevent getting influenza and it can be up to 70 per cent effective. Even if you do it the flu, with the vaccine, it reduces your change of being hospitalized by at least half.”

There are simple steps to help combat the flu, like coughing into one’s sleeve, frequent hand washing and, if you do get sick, staying home.

For more information about how to get the flu shot or about a flu clinic near you, call 1-855-354-4358 to book an appointment or visit www.gov.pe.ca/flu.

The next Public Health Nursing flu clinic in Summerside is Thursday.

 

nmacphee@journalpioneer.com

 

Geographic location: Alberta, Western Canada, Summerside

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