Sometimes, daily measures such as hand washing, which we take to protect ourselves against certain infections, are not enough. The flu vaccine is a method that is simple, effective, and within everyone’s reach to prevent the flu and its consequences. But have you thought about getting yourself vaccinated?
The flu: more serious than we think
Considered one of the diseases to have caused the greatest number of deaths in the world, the flu (short for influenza) continues to be a major concern in our society today. In fact, this severe infection, which may even be fatal, affects many Canadians each year and spreads incredibly fast. The advent of the flu vaccine has helped reduce the transmission of the virus considerably and this helps save the lives of millions of people each year. It is undoubtedly the most effective way to protect ourselves against the flu!
People often confuse the flu with the common cold. The symptoms of the flu are more severe and include:
- high fever;
- muscular aches;
- generalized discomfort that lasts several days;
- feeling unusually tired.
In addition, the flu can deteriorate into serious medical complications, including pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. This happens particularly to people with a delicate health. Each year in Quebec, the flu and its complications cause the hospitalization of between 10,000 and 50,000 people and are responsible for nearly 3,000 to 5,000 deaths.
Each year, a new vaccine against the flu is developed and made available towards the end of the fall. It offers no protection against the virus that causes colds or other respiratory tract infections. The flu virus is in constant evolution and the vaccine targets the virus that is most likely to spread in the community the next season.
Who should get vaccinated?
All Canadians should think about getting vaccinated each year, except those for whom the vaccine is not recommended.
For some people, the consequences of the flu can be disastrous. The vaccination program is meant particularly for these people, who can be vaccinated for free:
People with a high risk of developing complications from the flu:
- pregnant women;
- people aged 60 and above;
- infants between 6 and 23 months;
- residents of nursing homes;
- people with certain chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes, cardiac complaints, lung disease, kidney failure, cancer);
- individuals with an immune system deficiency;
- young people under 18 taking aspirin;
- very obese people;
- people with trouble swallowing, who can suffocate easily or who have difficulty breathing.
People in contact with those at a high risk of developing complications:
- healthcare workers;
- daycare workers;
- people in contact with high-risk individuals;
- those close to infants under 6 months.
Providers of essential community services: firefighters, police, ambulance drivers, etc.
Flu vaccine contraindications
It’s possible that the flu vaccine isn’t suitable for you. Talk to a healthcare professional if:
- you have already suffered from the Guillain-Barré syndrome or an oculo-respiratory syndrome after being vaccinated against the flu;
- you have already had an allergy or a severe reaction to the flu vaccine or one of its components;
- you have an illness that causes fever;
- you have a severe allergy to eggs.
The flu vaccine is safe. It cannot give rise to the flu because the fragments or the viruses that it contains are dead or attenuated. Organizations which are public health authorities recommend vaccination because the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the (minimal) risks it carries. There are a number of myths about the safety of vaccines. If you have doubts, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
The vaccine is generally well tolerated. When there are side-effects, they are usually mild and temporary. Pain, swelling, or redness of the skin injected are among the most frequent side-effects. Taking acetaminophen may alleviate the symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist about it.
Other symptoms may also appear temporarily for a few days. They resemble symptoms of the flu, but are much milder: body ache, headache, runny nose, fever, cough, throat irritation, etc.
Allergic reactions are very rare. They start a few minutes after the injection of the vaccine. They can, for instance, cause the following symptoms: difficulty breathing; swollen throat, tongue, or lips; hives. It is recommended that you stay on premises for 15 minutes after the vaccination so that steps can be taken if there is an allergic reaction.
How to get vaccinated against the flu?
The flu vaccine is available each year from the beginning of November. Please visit the website of your health and social services provider for locations where the vaccinations are given. Your pharmacist can also provide you with information.
Being vaccinated against the flu is a personal choice that is worth thinking about. To take an informed decision, you must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment, risks involved, and the vulnerability of your own health to the consequences of the flu. Your pharmacist is a healthcare professional who is well-versed on the subject and will be able to help you see things clearly. So, don’t wait until winter sets in to approach your pharmacist!