According to Health Canada, an estimated 10 to 25%of Canadians are infected with the influenza virus ("the flu") each year.
Although most people recover completely, some groups are at greater risk for more serious complications, including young children, people over 65, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions. An estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, die every year from complications related to influenza.
The evidence is clear that the flu poses a serious health threat to Manitobans.
Thankfully, the evidence is also clear that vaccines are extremely safe and work well in preventing illness in a significant percentage of the population. Unfortunately, despite the facts, many myths about the flu shot persist.
Myth: I had a flu shot last year, so don’t need one this year.
Reality: There are many different strains of influenza that circulate throughout the world. It’s important to get a flu shot every year because the circulating viruses often change from year-to-year, and the protection provided by the vaccine decreases over time. An annual flu shot is recommended for all Manitobans over six months of age, but is especially important for those at increased risk of serious illness from the flu, their caregivers and close contacts.
Myth: People can get the flu from the vaccine.
Reality: The vaccines currently used in Manitoba are made using inactive virus, and do not cause influenza. However, because they are given at the beginning of flu season when other respiratory viruses are circulating, people who become sick with a different virus after they get the vaccine may assume that the vaccine is the cause.
Myth: Young, healthy people don’t need a flu shot.
Reality: While the risk is lower, young/healthy people can develop severe infection from influenza. This is particularly true for young children. Getting the flu shot also helps prevent mild infections that often don’t feel very mild, and can result in time away from work or passing infection to family and friends at greater risk for severe illness.
Myth: I am pregnant so I can’t get my flu shot this year.
Reality: The influenza vaccine is considered safe at any stage of a woman’s pregnancy. In fact, getting the flu shot during pregnancy helps protect infants for the first six months of life when they can’t be immunized, in addition to protecting the mother. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, it is safe and recommended to get the flu shot.
We continue to learn more about the effectiveness of influenza vaccines. One study in Manitoba, STRIVE, contributes to an important national study that is looking at influenza vaccine effectiveness. While some of this research has found that influenza vaccines can be less effective in some years than we once believed, the benefits of the flu shot still outweigh the risks. Whatever your age and medical history, influenza vaccines can protect you, and those around you, from getting sick.
For more information about the flu and the vaccine that protects against it, go to the Manitoba government website at www.gov.mb.ca; contact your own health care provider; or call Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.
And get the shot, not the flu.