Influenza: you don’t know the worst of it

Influenza is coming and you don’t know the worst of it. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get immunized.
“Immunization is the single best way to prevent you and your loved ones from getting influenza,” says Ken Hughes, Chair, Alberta Health Services Board (AHS).

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Influenza is coming and you don’t know the worst of it. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get immunized.

“Immunization is the single best way to prevent you and your loved ones from getting influenza,” says Ken Hughes, Chair, Alberta Health Services Board (AHS).

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness, caused by the influenza virus. It’s far more serious than the common cold and can lead to hospitalization and death for some.

Annual immunization is necessary because the influenza virus changes each year and a new vaccine is created to provide protection against the virus that is most likely to cause illness. The best time to be immunized is in October and November.

Alberta Health Services will be holding clinics throughout the province in various community sites beginning the week of October 20.

“Immunization is extra important because influenza can be transferred easily from person to person, by touching contaminated surfaces like doorknobs, bank machines or even light switches then touching your mouth or nose,” says Dr. Gerry Predy, Acting Chief Medical Officer for Alberta.

Symptoms of influenza can include fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, loss of appetite, cough and sore throat.

Most people who have influenza will get better within a week, says Dr. Predy. However, people with chronic illnesses, children under two years of age and adults over 65 years old may develop severe complications from the disease, which can include pneumonia.

For medical reasons, some people should not receive the immunization and these include:

* People who have severe allergies to eggs (chicken eggs are used in the production of the vaccine);

* People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous influenza vaccine; and

* Children under six months of age.

For those who are not eligible for free immunization, influenza vaccine may be purchased for $25 at drop-in clinics.

The influenza immunization is safe and effective for residents. You can’t get influenza from the vaccine, says Dr. Predy.

“Most people experience no side effects from the vaccine,” says Dr. Predy. “If a reaction occurs, it is usually mild and goes away within one to two days.”

Possible reactions include:

* Redness, tenderness and/or swelling at the injection site;

* Mild fever;

* Tiredness or weakness.

This year, the vaccine will protect staff against A/Brisbane, A/Uruguay and B/Florida.

Alberta Health Services expands immunization campaign

Alberta Health Services has expanded the population groups eligible for publicly funded immunization against influenza, adding children aged two-four years and adults aged 50-64 years to the list identified by this year’s campaign.

“It’s important for people to realize how serious influenza is, and how the complications of influenza can have long-reaching consequences,” Hughes said. “Influenza isn’t just a cold or the sniffles – it’s a serious condition that affects thousands of Albertans every year; that’s why our immunization campaign is so important.”

While up to 25 per cent of the general population is at risk of being infected with influenza each year, some people are at higher risk of developing complications related to it. High-risk groups include infants and children up to two years of age, pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and people who have certain medical conditions such as chronic respiratory disease, heart or kidney disease, diabetes or a depressed immune system because of cancer, HIV infection, or some other cause. Alberta Health Services offers influenza immunization free of charge for these groups and for caregivers who live with them.

“Immunization will always be our best defense against influenza, which is why we’ve expanded the number of groups eligible for immunization,” Predy added. “The more high-risk groups that are immunized will result in less transmission of the virus to those populations at high risk of influenza-related complications.”

These two new age groups are not high-risk populations for complications, but they are often in contact with vulnerable populations that are. However, all populations can benefit from receiving the immunization, so Alberta Health Services is making the immunization available via local public health centres for a fee of $25 for those who don’t qualify for free campaign.

“The influenza immunization must be given annually to maximize the benefits,” said Predy, who notes the three influenza strains being protected against this year are new strains to North America. “These new strains make it all the more important to undergo an annual vaccination as protection from a previous year’s vaccination may not be effective this year. Watch your local newspaper for upcoming influenza clinic dates and times in your area.”

Alberta Health Services is the provincial authority responsible for planning and delivering accessible and sustainable patient-focused health services to more than 3.5 million Albertans.

The following people/populations qualify to receive free influenza vaccine through Alberta Health Services immunization campaign:

* People of any age living in a nursing home, lodge or chronic care facility,

* People 50 years of age and older,

* Children 6-59 months (under five years of age),

* Family members and regular caregivers of children under 24 months,

* Adults and children with chronic conditions including heart conditions, diabetes, asthma, cancer, etc,

* People who are HIV positive,

* Pregnant women,

* Household members and caregivers of children less than 24 month of age, persons 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, persons with chronic health conditions and persons living in a chronically disadvantaged situation, and

* Health care workers and other personnel in contact with those at high risk.

For those who don’t qualify for free influenza vaccine, immunization will be available for a fee of $25.For more information about the influenza immunization campaign and who is eligible for free vaccine, call Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-LINK or visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza.