October 29, 2007
Media Backgrounder

Who needs the flu shot? You do.


What is influenza?

Influenza is commonly called the flu.  It is a serious respiratory illness caused by a virus that spreads 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 surfaces or objects that have been contaminated by the flu virus, such as unwashed hands, toys, telephones and office equipment.


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 usually include vomiting and diarrhea, which are caused by different viruses.


The flu usually lasts for five to 10 days, but the cough and weakness can last for as long as six weeks. Often, people who get the 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-per cent effective in preventing influenza infection in healthy children and adults.  In the elderly, the vaccine can prevent pneumonia and hospitalization in about six out of 10 people, and prevent death in about eight 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 not vaccinated.


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 viruses.


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.


Priority should be given to the following groups:

·        People with a serious long-term health problem, such as heart, kidney or lung (including asthma) disease

·        People with diabetes, cancer, a blood disorder or a weak immune system

·        People who live, work or volunteer in a health care or long-term care facility, chronic care institution or retirement home

·        People 65 years of age or over

·        Healthy children aged six to 23 months

·        Those who live with a person who is at increased risk of complications from flu

·        Those who provide regular care for infants and children up to 23 months of age, both in and out of the home

·        emergency services workers (paramedic, firefighter or police)

·        pregnant women and breastfeeding women


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 infants, the elderly and the chronically ill who could develop severe complications from the flu.


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?

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.  Anyone who experiences a more serious reaction than listed above should call his/her family physician.


The vaccine is considered safe for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy or those who are breastfeeding.


See your physician to get the flu shot if you have:

·        Had a serious allergic reaction  to a previous dose of influenza vaccine or any component of the vaccine (thimerosal, neomycin, formaldehyde)

·        An allergy to eggs or chicken meat

·        Developed Oculo-Respiratory Syndrome (ORS) after a previous flu shot

·        Ever experienced Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

·        Are taking Theophylline, Phenytoin, anti-coagulants, prednisone, and/or other immuno-suppressive drugs


Does the flu vaccine protect against avian flu?

No, there is not yet an effective vaccine to protect humans against avian flu.


Do residents have to pay for this vaccine?

No, the vaccine is available free of charge for all Ontario residents.


Do you have questions about the flu or the vaccine?

Speak with your doctor or contact York Region Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653 or visit www.york.ca/flu


Where can residents go to be vaccinated against the flu?

Visit your family physician or one of the many York Region Community and Health Services flu clinics.  Also, some workplaces are offering employer-sponsored clinics to their employees.


For a complete listing of all the community flu clinics, please visit www.york.ca/flu or call York Region Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653.


For more information on The Regional Municipality of York, please visit www.york.ca


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Media Contact:         Jennifer Mitchell-Emmerson, Community and Health Services, York Region

                                 Phone: (905) 830-4444 Ext. 4016 or After-hours Cell (905) 716-2717

                                 Email: jennifer.mitchellemmerson@york.ca

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