ParentsCanada: Is the flu shot really effective at preventing the flu?
Christine Singh: The flu vaccine remains your best protection against the flu. We know last year’s vaccine offered up to 60 per cent protection, and who wouldn’t want to reduce their risk of getting a serious virus by more than half?
Also, certain people, including young children, pregnant women and people aged 65 and over, may be at higher risk of developing complications from the flu. By protecting yourself, you’re also protecting loved ones. Getting your flu shot is easy and Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies offer flu immunizations administered by an injection-certified pharmacists without an appointment.
PC: I hear so many stories of people who say they got the flu from the flu shot. How can that be?
CS: This is one of the most common myths we hear, but flu vaccinations delivered via a needle are made with an ‘inactivated’ (dead) flu virus that’s not infectious. People who have been vaccinated can still catch other respiratory viruses such as a cold, which cause symptoms similar to the flu. If you receive the flu shot later in the year, you also may have been exposed to the influenza virus before the vaccine became effective.
PC: My child hates needles. What are my options?
CS: There are lots of ways to help your child manage needle fear and anxiety. Distraction is among the best techniques. Younger kids can blow bubbles or blow a pinwheel (the focussed breathing helps); older kids can watch a video on a tablet or smartphone or listen to music on an iPod. Experts recommend avoiding saying overly reassuring things such as “It’ll be over soon” and “You’re OK”. This can increase distress and pain.
In addition to the injectable flu vaccine, FluMist (a nasal spray) will be available for Canadians aged 5 to 17 years at pharmacies and clinics in most provinces. The nasal spray differs from the flu shot because it contains four different weakened live influenza viruses. When sprayed in the nose, the body’s immune system develops protective antibodies to prevent natural infection.
PC: What other ways can I help prevent my family from getting the flu?
CS: Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu. Depending on how well the vaccine is matched to this year’s most common viruses, 70-90 per cent of flu cases can be averted through vaccination. However, you can also strengthen your immune system by maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, eating right and staying hydrated. You can practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Remember to pack a box of tissues for your workplace (or school) and throw away used tissues immediately. If a tissue is not available, teach your children to sneeze or cough into their elbow or upper arm to avoid spreading germs to their hands.
PC: How will I know if I or someone in my family has the flu, and how should I treat it?
CS: Sometimes, even when you do everything right, you still get sick. Your kids may have brought a bug home from school or you picked up something while sweating it out at the gym, but regardless it’s nearly impossible to protect yourself and your family at every intersection of your life.
Influenza is highly-contagious and affects the nose, throat and lungs, and makes you feel quite ill. Symptoms appear suddenly and include fever, cough, muscle aches, chills, headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can usually last up to 7 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness may last 1 to 2 weeks longer. Most people only have mild illness and don’t need care from a healthcare provider. If a family member has the flu, make sure they drink lots of liquids and get lots of rest. They can also check with their pharmacist on what over-the-counter or prescription medications can be used to treat specific symptoms. Severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, high fever or persistent vomiting are all signs you should seek medical attention.
* Canadians can get the flu vaccination from injection-certified pharmacists in all provinces except for Québec and the territories.*