Do you remember last year’s flu season? You don’t? Well, there’s a good reason for that. With all of the public health measures in place to protect each other from COVID-19, a welcome consequence was the reduction in seasonal influenza circulating in Canada. With increased COVID-19 vaccination rates and some loosening of public health restrictions, however, we can expect that seasonal influenza (and other vaccine-preventable diseases) will start to make a reappearance.
The words “it’s time for your flu shot” aren’t exactly what Canadians like to hear, but influenza is a serious disease usually accompanied by fever, headaches, cough and fatigue for most healthy adults and more severe symptoms that can lead to hospitalization or even death in people with high risk conditions. Even for healthy people, influenza infection can be debilitating and has been described as feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus. To make matters worse, the symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19, so if you do get sick, you’ll likely have to quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.
Many Canadians don’t know that the very young, those under five years of age, and older adults over the age of 65 are at high risk of severe influenza illness and related complications. These groups are at risk because they don’t respond as well to the influenza vaccine. Many also don’t know that in a given year an estimated 12,200 hospitalizations related to influenza occur and as many as 3,500 Canadians die from influenza and its complications, making flu prevention by healthy individuals who can pass it on to those at high risk for severe disease or complications a necessity.
Healthy individuals can shed the influenza virus and transmit influenza before they develop symptoms, and while handwashing, proper flu etiquette (coughing and sneezing into your sleeve), and staying away from others when you’re sick are important to decrease the spread of influenza, the most effective way to prevent influenza is to be vaccinated. Other people who need protection from their annual flu shot are adults and children with underlying health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, pregnant people, Indigenous peoples, and residents of long-term care facilities.
The seasonal influenza vaccine is safe and your best choice to reduce your risk of getting sick. It’s free and conveniently available at your doctor’s office, local pharmacy, or local public health clinic. There’s no better benefit than protecting the ones you love by not taking chances with the flu.