Northern Health prepares for influenza clinics; at-risk residents urged to get free vaccine

Every year, around 1400 people in BC die from influenza and pneumonia (which is a serious complication of influenza). Northern Health is urging those residents at risk to get their free influenza vaccine this season.

?Influenza is a serious health threat, especially for individuals in at-risk categories, such as the elderly,? said Dr. David Bowering, Chief Medical Health Officer. ?A safe, effective vaccine is readily available.

Getting it protects your well-being and could even save a life.?

Those most at risk include the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. These at-risk individuals can become severely ill, suffer secondary illnesses like pneumonia, or may even die.

Healthy younger people who get influenza usually miss a week or more of work or school and are vulnerable to other viruses and bacteria before they fully recover.

The flu vaccine is free for those in at-risk categories, which include in part:

* People 65 years of age and older,

* Residents of long-term care facilities,

* People with chronic diseases,

* Children aged six to 23 months,

* Women who are pregnant and in their third trimester

during influenza season,

* People working directly with live poultry and/or swine

* Health care workers,

* First responders such as police officers, fire-fighters, and ambulance crews.

Starting October 29th, public health nurses across the North will begin to provide free influenza vaccination for those in at-risk groups. For local community clinic dates and times, visit www.northernhealth.ca or call your local health unit.

Many physicians also provide influenza vaccinations to their at-risk patients. Some local pharmacies will also offer flu vaccination to the general public on a charge basis.

Pneumococcal vaccine is available for certain at-risk groups. The pneumococcal vaccine helps to protect against pneumonia which is the most common complication of influenza. Most people only need to receive this vaccine once, even though patients need the flu vaccine every year due to different emerging strains. People at risk who require the pneumococcal vaccine can get it at the same time as their influenza vaccine.

Individuals experiencing flu-like symptoms which are unusually severe or last for more than a week should speak with with their physician for diagnosis and treatment.

Careful hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of illness, like influenza. People should wash their hands well for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap – before and after using the washroom and before eating or preparing food.

For more information on influenza and other health issues, residents can also call the BC NurseLine toll-free at 1-866-215-4700, or TTY at 1-866-889-4700 for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Registered nurses at this line can provide confidential health information and advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Translation services are available in 130 languages. See BC HealthGuide OnLine at www.bchealthguide.org for more information and the BC HealthFiles.

INFLUENZA

Who are the eligible groups for a free influenza vaccination?

The flu vaccine is free for:

* People 65 years of age and older,* Residents of long-term care facilities

* People with chronic diseases

* Children aged 6 to 23 months

* Household and regular child care contacts of children aged 0 to 23 months

* Household contacts of people at high risk for influenza

* Adults and children with any condition that can compromise respiratory function

* People working directly with live poultry and/or swine

* Women who are pregnant and in their third trimester during influenza season

* Health care workers

* First responders such as police officers, fire-fighters/ambulance crews

What are the symptoms of influenza?

Influenza is a very contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Symptoms can include: * Fever

* Runny nose * Muscle aches* Sore throat * Cough * Hard to get out of bed

How can influenza infection be prevented? A safe, effective, and easy-to-get vaccine that will help protect against infection from influenza can be received through local public health nurses.

Also, careful hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of illness, such as influenza. People should wash their hands well for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap – before and after using the washroom and before eating or preparing food. Also, if you do become ill, stay at home to ensure you don?t spread it to others.

What are the side effects of the influenza vaccine?

Influenza vaccine is very safe. Some redness or soreness in the arm where the needle was given may be encountered. Some individuals may get a mild headache and flu-like symptoms, such as aching muscles. These symptoms usually last for only one to two days.

Why is influenza more dangerous than an average cold? Influenza lowers the body?s ability to fight other infections that can be encountered. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common complication – particularly in the elderly, but influenza can also cause worsening of other chronic conditions, especially of the heart and lung. Complications can sometimes lead to fatality.

www.northernhealth.ca