October 1, 2014
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Cold and Flu

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Should I get a seasonal flu shot?

You may be thinking about getting vaccinated against the flu this year. Considering that 10% to 20% of Canadians will be affected by the influenza virus each year, that's not a bad idea.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization advises all Canadians over age 6 months to get a flu shot. That's because vaccination is one of the most effective preventive measures you could take. And with the "shot in the arm" that a vaccine can give, you're less likely to be one of the 20,000 hospitalizations or 2,000 to 8,000 deaths blamed on the flu each year.

Still, you may be unsure. Perhaps answers to a few questions might make your decision easier:

Should I be vaccinated against the seasonal flu this year? Probably yes - except for those 6 months of age or younger or if you have had severe reactions to the vaccination in the past. If neither of those applies to you, you should definitely be vaccinated if you fall into particular risk categories:

  • young children between 6 and 23 months of age
  • people who are 65 or older
  • pregnant women
  • anyone with chronic diseases such as heart or lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, anemia, cancer, or HIV or other immune-suppression diseases
  • those who live in a nursing home or care facility
  • caregivers and health care workers
  • those at high risk of complications who travel to areas where flu virus is circulating
  • people who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or greater)
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • people who have direct contact during culling operations involving poultry infected with avian influenza

The injectable flu shot (but not the nasal spray) has been shown to be safe for many people with egg allergies. Your doctor will need to assess whether you should have a flu shot if you are allergic to eggs. Be sure to tell your health care provider about this and any other allergies you may have before you are given your flu shot.

Does the seasonal flu vaccine really work? About 70% to 90% of healthy people who get a flu shot will be protected from the virus. Those who still get the flu usually get milder symptoms. After being injected with the vaccine, it can take a couple of weeks to take effect. If you catch a flu virus in that wait period you won't be protected.

When should I get vaccinated? You could get a flu shot at any time during flu season between November and April. But because of the time needed for the vaccine to take effect, you should get the vaccination early before the peak infection time. Ask your health care provider when is the best time for you to get the seasonal flu shot.

How much will I have to pay for a seasonal flu shot? Ontario and Alberta offer all their residents aged 6 months or older free vaccines. If you do not live in these provinces, check with your doctor to determine whether you are eligible for a free flu shot. In most doctors' offices and clinics, flu shots will cost about $10 to $15.

Is there any risk involved in getting a seasonal flu shot? The benefits of prevention outweigh the risks with a flu shot. Rarely, people will experience allergic reaction. More often, they will experience no side effects or perhaps soreness, redness, or swelling at the spot where the shot was given. Contrary to myth, a flu shot cannot cause the flu, since it never contains any live virus.

Will I need to be vaccinated against new strains of flu, like the H1N1 virus?Flu shot requirements change every year. To help protect yourself against new flu strains, it is important to get re-vaccinated every year. For example, during the flu season of 2009, Canadians faced a double or even triple shot of protection (one or two shots to combat the new H1N1 flu virus and one to address the usual strains of seasonal flu).

Amy Toffelmire


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