Photo by Chung Chow
Want to boost your immune system?
Get your flu shot, according to Richmond’s medical health officer, Dr. Meena Dawar.
And this year’s flu may be a doozy, if what’s happened during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter flu season this year is any indication.
“We do know that Australia has had a fairly severe season,” says Dawar. A normal flu season usually costs 3,500 Canadians their lives. While 90 per cent of those deaths are seniors, “children do get sick from it and die as well,” Dawar says. “It’s very tragic.”
The vaccination takes up to two weeks to be fully effective so get it now to be ready when the full-blown influenza season hits in November.
A flu shot protects your family and our community. You can spread the virus to others before you feel sick.
Influenza can leave you off work for weeks or sometimes even months. It’s more than just a bad cold. It is a severe illness.
“For most of us adults and seniors, getting influenza is like being run over by a truck. You don’t just get a cold and a cough. Your muscles ache, you’re run down, you can’t get out of bed. It’s a fairly severe illness,” she says.
It’s rare, but Dr. Dawar suggests that anyone who has had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past see an allergist because there are new products that make immunization possible.
A vaccination teaches your immune system to recognize and fight off an infection. Just as some of the symptoms of full-blown influenza are from your immune system rallying to fight off the virus, so too are the much milder symptoms some people have in the days after their vaccination.
If you catch the flu, the virus can actually cause temporary damage to your immune system, leaving you open to a secondary, bacterial infection like pneumonia or a sinus infection. That’s why people get over the flu and it sometimes seems to “come back.”
Dawar recommends the flu shot for everyone.
In theory, those not in a high-risk group might need to pay $25 for their shot but you will not likely have to pay because Dawar says the criteria for the free shots are so broad; children six months to five years, people 65 and over, anyone with a chronic condition, anyone who may be visiting hospitals, health centres or a seniors’ residence, or any people who are in contact with anyone in the above categories.
“So,” she says, “that means everybody else.”
Dawar says the influenza vaccine is very safe. It can cause a sore arm where you got the shot. “That’s normal. It’s the immune system responding to the vaccine. And you can feel a bit achy but you don’t get cold symptoms, no runny nose, no cough because the vaccine does not cause the flu. It only contains components of the virus, not the actual virus.”
Besides the elderly, Dawar cautions there is another at-risk group: pregnant women.
“Pregnant women absolutely should be immunized. It’s safe for pregnant women and recommended for all stages of pregnancy. There’s clear evidence from many, many studies, that it protects both themselves and their babies from being hospitalized.”
She says the flu shot protects babies from being born too early or too small. In addition, a baby is born with the mom’s protective immunities that last until the baby is old enough to grow their own immune system.
Wilson Li, a pharmacist at the new Shoppers Drug Mart at Gilbert and Elmbridge, said customers simply need to sign a form that confirms they meet one of the criteria for a free shot.
“People are aware the flu is a problem we’re facing,” Li said.
Flu shots are also available through a family physician or a public health clinic.