Q&A: FLU SEASON 2022/23
You might be tempted to tune out information about the seasonal flu. Flu season, again? After a few years of living in the shadow of COVID-19, it’s understandable to have some respiratory illness and vaccination fatigue.
However, getting your flu shot is one of the most significant steps you can take in protecting your health. It’s easy, it’s free and your health could be dependent on it.
What is Influenza?
Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious and infectious respiratory disease.
The flu causes fever, sore throat, tiredness, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain. Complications of the flu can result in trouble breathing, convulsions, seizures, and pneumonia.
The flu can spread through coughing and sneezing. You can become infected by coming in close contact with someone sick with the flu. You can also become infected by touching objects that someone with the flu has touched, and then touching your eyes or mouth.
Why do we take vaccines every year?
New strains of influenza appear every year. Annual immunization is an effective way to prevent influenza and its complications.
Why is the flu of such concern?
In most people, the flu is uncomfortable and tiring, but some people are more at risk for serious complications from the flu, including people over 65, young children, people in residential care and people with long-term lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Complications from the flu contributes to an average of 12,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year. Those aged 65 and older account for 70% of flu-related hospitalizations and 90% of flu-related deaths. Many of these cases could have been prevented through vaccination.
Not only that, but for the older adults that recover, the flu can be life-changing. It can have lasting impacts on the ability to perform everyday tasks, due to functional decline (defined as a loss of independence, often associated with a deterioration in mobility and a decline in ability to participate in a variety of activities of daily living).
What do I need to know about the 2022/23 flu?
Experts are concerned about the 2022/23 season. They note the last two flu seasons had low flu rates because the public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 also helped control the spread of the flu. With those measures no longer active, there is a population that has not been exposed to as much influenza the past couple of years and is potentially at greater risk for [being] infected this year.
Plus, researchers studying the impact of the flu season in Australia — which serves as a precursor of the virus’s spread in the northern hemisphere — have found a steep increase in cases and hospitalizations.
“Their flu season started earlier than usual, it came in like a lion and they actually had a pretty rough influenza season all things considered,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist with the University Health Network (UHN).
Several respiratory viruses circulating simultaneously creating stressors on our community and our health-care system, making it more challenging to receive adequate care if needed.
Older Canadians are urged to get their flu shot as soon as possible. The vaccines don’t take effect until 10 to 14 days post-vaccination.
What’s the best way to prevent the flu?
As well as simple precautions such as washing your hands, avoiding touching your nose and mouth, staying away from those who are currently ill and wearing a mask, the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu and flu-related complications is to get your flu shot.
If you get the flu, the flu shot may also reduce the severity of the illness and the chances of flu-related complications.
What do I need to know about COVID-19 boosters and the flu shot?
It is safe to take both COVID-19 boosters and the flu shot. Dr. Camille Lemieux, Chief of Family Medicine at UHN Lemieux has been recommending patients receive both the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine as well as the influenza vaccine.
What should I know about the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation (NACI) recommended high-dose flu vaccine?
The NACI recommended high-dose flu vaccine was designed to protect adults over 65. The natural weakening of the immune system that happens with age also means that older individuals are less responsive to the regular flu vaccine.
According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the high dose flu has shown to be over 24% more effective in protecting older people from seasonal influenza.
The NACI recommended high dose flu vaccine is now available at no charge to Canadians 65 and over in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, New Brunswick and PEI.
CARP is advocating for the best-in-class flu vaccine (NACI recommended high-dose) to be publicly funded for all seniors in all provinces and territories. Access to the best of Canadian healthcare should not be a matter of geography. Are you in a province without a free high dose flu vaccine? Contact your MPP. Without full funding from governments, many people can’t afford to shield themselves with these lifesaving vaccines, which can cost up to $300 per person.
Seniors deserve to live with the peace of mind that they’re protecting from the highly preventable illnesses that pose a real (and annually recurring) threat to their lives.
Where can I go to get the flu vaccine?
READ MORE about the importance of vaccines.