October 10, 2003
What is influenza?
Influenza is commonly called the flu. It's a serious respiratory illness caused by a virus that spreads easily through the air from person to person. You can get the flu when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can also get the flu if you touch infected surfaces or objects including unwashed hands, toys, telephones and office equipment covered by the flu virus.
People who get the flu experience headache, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, fever, fatigue and weakness. The flu can lead to other serious illnesses (such as pneumonia) that may result in hospitalization or even death.
Influenza is not what is commonly called the "stomach flu" and does not include vomiting and diarrhea, which are caused by different viruses.
The flu usually lasts for 5 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness can last for as long as 6 weeks. Often, people who get a true case of flu cannot go to work for several days.
How well does influenza vaccine protect against the flu?
Protection from the vaccine develops about one to two weeks after the shot, and may last up to one year. The vaccine is about 70 to 90% effective in preventing influenza infection in healthy adults. Influenza vaccine has been shown to prevent illness in approximately 70% of healthy children and adults. In the elderly, the vaccine can prevent pneumonia and hospitalization in about 6 out of 10 people, and prevent death in about 8 out of 10 people.
A small number of people who get a flu shot may still get the flu, but not as seriously as if they were unvaccinated.
The viruses that cause the flu change from year to year. Therefore, a new vaccine is made every year. People need to be vaccinated every fall to be protected against the flu.
The flu shot cannot give you the flu. The vaccine does not contain any live virus.
Who should get a flu shot?
Much of the illness caused by the flu can be prevented by annual flu immunization. Anyone who wants to avoid becoming ill with the flu should consider getting immunized.
You are particularly encouraged to receive the flu vaccine if:
· You are 65 years of age or older
· You have a serious, long-term health problem such as heart, kidney or lung (including asthma) disease
· You live, work or volunteer in a long-term care facility, chronic care institution or retirement home
· You work in emergency services (paramedic, firefighter or police)
· You live in the same household as a person who is at increased risk of complications from the flu
· You are a health care worker
Why should healthy people get the flu vaccine?
Healthy people should get the vaccine to protect themselves and their families from the flu. People who protect themselves will not miss quality time with their families and friends. They will avoid missing work and won’t pass the virus to others, especially to babies, the elderly and the chronically ill who could develop severe complications.
The flu is much worse than a cold. Even healthy young people can become very sick and develop serious complications.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes. For the majority of people, there are little or no side effects from the flu shot, and if they occur they are mild. There may be soreness where the shot was given. Some people report a fever and muscle aches within one or two days of vaccination.
The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small. Almost all people who get the flu vaccine have no serious reaction. If someone does experience a more serious reaction than listed above they should call their family physician.
The vaccine is considered safe for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy or who are breastfeeding.
Who should not get the flu vaccine?
· Infants under six months of age (the current vaccine is not recommended for this age group)
· Anyone who is ill with a fever
· Anyone with a serious allergy to eggs or egg products
· Anyone allergic to thimerosal, gelatin or neomycin
· Anyone who had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of influenza vaccine
Anyone with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome and/or Oculorespiratory Syndrome should speak with their physician before getting the flu vaccine.
Speak with your doctor or contact York Region Health Services Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653 or www.region.york.on.ca.
Visit your family physician or one of the many York Region Health Services community flu clinics. Also, some workplaces are offering employer-sponsored clinics to their employees.
Roll up your sleeve. Get the vaccine. Not the flu.
For further information on our flu clinics contact York Region Health Services
Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653 or visit www.region.york.on.ca
Contact: Patrick Casey, Senior Media Relations Specialist, York Region
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