By Nicole Obre
The holidays are over, the kids are back in school, and it’s officially that not-so-wonderful time of the year. Flu season is back, H1N1 has resurfaced, and public health officials are urging everyone to do the simple, obvious, and easy thing to do to prevent it; get a flu shot.
The virus began spreading in Alberta in early December – a little close for comfort, considering our close proximity to the provincial border and the influx of Calgarians that visit the Elk Valley. 45 influenza cases have now been confirmed in the Interior Health region, with roughly a third of those in the East and West Kootenays. After an outbreak in the Lower Mainland, 40 people ended up in the hospital, half of them in intensive care. An Okanagan woman is the first confirmed B.C. death from H1N1 and Alberta health officials have reported five H1N1 related deaths in the province.
It was just a few years back in 2009 when the World Health Organization declared H1N1 had reached pandemic levels and panic was widespread. However this outbreak is not cause for panic – yet – according to health officials.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall has stated that although influenza cases are increasing in the province and across the country, we are not experiencing a pandemic, simply a “bad” flu season.
What we need to remember is that even in a “good” season, the flu kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada. For thousands of others, it can mean a week or more of dealing with fever, chills, muscle aches, and exhaustion.
If you have already been vaccinated, good on you. This year’s flu shot wards off three different strains, including the H1N1 virus. Even in the unlikely situation that you come down with the flu after getting immunized, you will experience a much milder illness.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, the good news is it’s not too late. But vaccine supplies are starting to run low and it takes a full two weeks after receiving the shot to have full immunity. The sooner you can get it done, the better.
The vaccine is free for those considered at risk and only costs about $20 to $30 for those that aren’t. You can get it through your family doctor, a clinic, or your local health unit, and it is available for purchase at pharmacies (dependent on their supply).
Of course if you’re needle shy or having a hard time getting ahold of the vaccine there are other things you can do. Wash your hands on a regular basis and stay home if you are sick. But if it’s at all an option, the most effective and easiest thing to do, is get the shot. You’ll be doing yourself – and everyone else – a favour.