You and the Flu
Have you ever wondered how the flu vaccine is created, and how it helps you and your family stay flu free? Watch the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care video to find out.
There are many reasons why some people are unlikely to get an influenza (flu) vaccination. Some people are allergic to eggs and really shouldn't get a flu shot. Others admit they're afraid of needles and don't like getting shots of any kind. Still others claim that they had intended to get a flu shot but couldn't find the time to do so.
Outside of an allergy to eggs, there is no good reason to avoid getting a flu shot — especially when it can help you avoid a serious and potentially life-threatening illness.
Complications from the flu can be very serious and the flu shot dramatically reduces the risk of contracting this disease. Through the Universal Influenza Immunization Program, Ontario's health ministry makes flu shots available each year to all Ontarians free of charge.
Let's dispel some common myths about getting a flu shot.
Myth: I didn't get a flu shot last year and I didn't get sick. Obviously I don't need flu vaccinations.
Fact : Every flu season brings a new and different strain of the disease. While some flu seasons turn out to be "lighter" than others, no one can predict when a really bad flu season will occur.
Myth: I'm young and healthy. I don't need a flu shot.
Fact : Influenza is much worse than a cold. Even healthy young adults can become seriously ill. On average, people who become sick from the flu are bed-ridden for up to five days, causing them to lose time from work or vacation. Besides, if you develop the flu, there's a chance you might infect others who are at much higher risk than you: young children, elderly people, or someone with a medical condition who could end up with serious complications from the flu and end up in hospital.
Myth: Getting a flu shot will give me the flu.
Fact : This is simply not true. The vaccine does not contain any live virus so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. Many people confuse the flu with a cold or other respiratory infections. The vaccine will not protect you against these.
Myth: The flu is just a bad cold.
Fact : A cold is not the flu. The flu is much worse. The flu is caused by the influenza virus. A cold is caused by several different viruses.
Myth: Flu shots aren't worth getting because they're not very effective anyway.
Fact : A flu shot is about 70% to 90% effective in preventing illness in healthy adults. In children, it's about 62% to 73% effective in preventing illness with fever. Among the elderly, the vaccine can prevent pneumonia and hospitalization in about six out of 10 people. Protection from the vaccine develops about one to two weeks after the shot, and may last for up to one year. Vaccine effectiveness varies from one person to another, depending upon their general state of health. Some individuals who get a flu shot can still get the flu. But if they do, it is usually a milder case than it would have been without the flu shot.
Myth: I don't need another shot. I've already been vaccinated.
Fact : A flu shot is needed every year. There are many different strains of the flu virus with slightly different characteristics. The strains change yearly and each year a new vaccine is produced that provides protection against the three most common strains predicted for the coming season.
Protect yourself and the people around you by getting a free flu shot. And this year, it's never been easier. See your doctor or Pharmacist, or call to find a clinic near you.
We are helping to protect our patients, their families and visitors from the flu this season. Getting the flu shot will increase your chance of not getting sick. It is also important to understand what Influenza and Avian Influenza is and how it spreads.
Download the St. Joseph's Health Centre's Influenza brochure
Please take a moment to read some quick FAQs and remember to always wash your hands!
Q What is Influenza
A: Influenza, often called the flu, is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by the influenza virus. It can spread around the world in epidemics and causes serious illness as well as death. In Canada the influenza season usually begins in October and can last to August.
Q: How is Influenza spread?
A: Influenza spreads easily from person to person through breathing, coughing and sneezing. The virus can also spread when a person touches tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth, eyes or nose before washing their hands.
Q: What is a Pandemic?
A: An influenza pandemic occurs when there is an abrupt and major change in the protein structure of the Influenza A virus resulting, in a new strain. Because people have little or no immunity to this new strain, it can spread quickly, causing outbreaks in one or more countries or worldwide. This is called a pandemic (taken from Toronto Public Health’s website).
Q: What is Avian Influenza?
A: Avian influenza or “bird flu” is a contagious disease of animals, caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and less commonly pigs. Although rare, there have been instances of possible human-to-human transmission of H5N1, the avian flu subtype that is currently circulating in Asia and parts of Europe. There is concern that the virus may change to a form that is highly infectious for humans and spread easily from person-to-person. Such a change could mark the start of a pandemic.
Q: How will we know if the pandemic spreads to Canada?
A: One way that this could occur is if a person with Avian influenza travels to Canada and makes contact with a person here who has one of our strains of influenza. The two strains will meet in the human host, merge and a new unpredictable virus will be born.
Q: About the Flu Shot:
A: The influenza vaccine (flu shot) is made from particles of killed flu viruses. It contains three different types of influenza viruses (two types of influenza A and one of influenza B). A person who receives the flu shot develops immunity for the types of flu in the vaccine. The body needs about two weeks to build up protection to the virus, and this protection may last four months or longer.
The flu vaccine is 70-90% effective in healthy individuals and usually protects well for at least 6 months. In the elderly, young people and people with weak immune systems, chronic heart and lung diseases it is approximately 40% effective and usually protects for only 4 months. Flu season begins in October and can last to August.
People with Influenza are contagious for 1 to 2 days before symptoms start - this is the most common cause of spread within health care institutions. Many persons can also have mild symptoms which are often mistaken for the common cold.
Q: Who Should not get the Flu Shot?
A: Those who should not get the Flu shot include infants 6 months and younger, Individuals allergic to egg or egg products or any component of the vaccine (check with your doctor) and tThose with history of neurological illness such as Guillan-Barre syndrome.
This information has been collected from a number of sources including St. Joseph's Health Centre’s Infection Control Department and Toronto Public Health.
Page last updated: December 13, 2010