Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Few catching flu here

Province drops needles, opts for spray-mist vaccine

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Manitobans aged two to 59 who want to be immunized against influenza in the weeks ahead will be getting FluMist instead of a flu shot.

DARRON CUMMINGS / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Manitobans aged two to 59 who want to be immunized against influenza in the weeks ahead will be getting FluMist instead of a flu shot.

Protection from the flu in Manitoba is now as simple as a puff up the nose.

And while other provinces are seeing hundreds of people suffering from the flu this season, Manitoba health officials don't know why Manitobans appears to be getting off lightly so far.

Dr. Michael Routledge, the province's chief provincial public health officer, confirmed Monday Manitobans aged two to 59 who want to be immunized against influenza in the weeks ahead won't be getting a flu shot -- they'll be getting FluMist for free.

"It's the first year for us," Routledge said. "The vast majority of vaccines were given in the fall (by needle), but we've had a large demand for vaccines now so we've decided to use FluMist now."

'The vast majority of vaccines were given in the fall (by needle), but now we've had a large demand for vaccines now so we've decided to use FluMist now' -- Dr. Michael Routledge

Routledge said while it is the first time the spray-mist vaccine is being administered in Manitoba, it has been used elsewhere.

"It's a relatively newer vaccine but it has proven to be an effective vaccine," he said. "The other provinces are using it. I suspect we'll be using it again early next (flu) season."

Routledge said there are more restrictions with FluMist than with the standard vaccine because while the needle contains dead flu viruses, the spray mist uses a live virus from weakened influenza viruses.

The fact sheet put out by the province says women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant in the next month shouldn't be immunized with FluMist. Others who shouldn't use it include those with weakened immune systems, with asthma, with a history of Guillain Barre Syndrome and diabetes.

Routledge said unlike a jab in the arm, FluMist is given as a nasal spray into both nostrils. One dose is given to people nine years of age and older while children aged two to eight who have never had a seasonal flu vaccine will need a second dose four weeks after the first.

Routledge said he doesn't know why Manitoba has recorded a low number of flu cases relative to other provinces. Manitoba recorded 63 flu cases for the week of Jan. 5 to 11, the same week Saskatchewan had 360, Alberta had 800, British Columbia had 463 and Ontario had 859.

"It's a good question," said Routledge, noting all provinces use the same vaccine.

"At the end of the year, we'll be able to look around and see if there was a really big difference. It is difficult to get a picture in the middle of the season.

"Some places are a bit heavier, but when you look across the country it is a typical flu season."

Routledge said Manitoba is finding one similarity to other provinces: The flu is hitting younger adults harder than seniors.

"But the vast majority of people who get influenza will be fine," he said.

Routledge said he is concerned about the results of a national poll released Monday by Forum Research, which states the main reason fewer than four in 10 Canadians have been immunized is because they don't trust vaccines.

"It's unfortunate that the number is that high," he said. "I'm a little surprised it is. We need to continue to talk to Manitobans. Immunizations are extremely effective and extremely safe."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Afraid of needles? Will you get the vaccine now that it comes in a nasal mist? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2014 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:43 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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