Older patients wait with baited breath, like it's Christmas time, constantly phoning to see whether the serum is in yet.
We hold flu vaccine clinics for several weeks every fall, and the line ups prior to the doors opening are like that of a rock concert, or Boxing Day sale. That's great, although I wish we could get more kids in, as they tend to be most at risk and most likely to spread the flu.
What is the Flu Anyway?
When we take about the "flu", we're using the short version of influenza, a highly contagious virus. In North America, the bug causes a respiratory illness, generally peaking in fall and winter. There are 2 main strains, Influenza A and Influenza B, with the "A" strain generally being more contagious and severe. Symptoms typically are sudden in onset and include headache, fever, sore throat, cough, runny noses and itchy eyes. Often muscles are very achy, especially in the low back. The course will typically last a week to 10 days and can really knock you off your feet. Generally speaking, we distinguish influenza from the common cold by the rapid onset, the severity with which it hits you, and body aches. The common cold is usually milder. Formal diagnosis must be made by taking a nasopharyngeal (back of your nostrils into your throat) swab.
How do we Treat the Flu?
Treatment for the flu is generally symptomatic and supportive, as the symptoms, although significant, are self limiting. Lots of fluids,Tylenol or Ibuprofen for aches and fever are really all that are necessary.
There are also antiviral medications like Tamiflu or Relenza that have been shown to shorten the course of the flu by 1-2 days if started immediately. This may be of benefit if work is time critical or an important event is imminent.
Not getting sick is always the best option if possible. Keeping hands as clean as possible, coughing into your sleeve, and avoiding contact will sick people are always good choices. Getting the Flu Vaccine is the best method of staying healthy this winter.
Every year, a prediction of the prevailing influenza strains is made and 3 vaccines are incorporated into the annual influenza vaccine. This is because the influenza virus is constantly mutating and new strains become prevalent. The vaccine always contains 2 strains of the Influenza A and 1 strain of Influenza B. This year's strains are:
- A/California/7/2009 H1N1
- A/Victoria/361/2011 H3N2
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
In Ontario, we vaccinate everyone from 6 months of age onward. Highest risk groups should be given priority, which include the elderly (>65), those with chronic medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease. . .), those in long term facilities, pregnant women, and those coming in contact with high risk individuals (ie, health care workers, community workers like teachers, etc.)
Overall, the benefits are large, and the risks are very low, so I strongly encourage everyone to get their flu shot again this year!
Let me know - Have you gotten your shot yet?