Stay healthy this winter season, get a flu shot

Military member receiving the flu shot

Base Chief, CPO1 Robert Spinelli (left) receives a flu shot from Cpl Justin Lalonde, Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Pacific), at the Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters flu vaccine clinic on Nov. 23.

Capt Laura Guevremont, CFHSC(P) – With flu season in full swing, Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Pacific) has been offering the flu shot to its members to help them stay healthy this winter.

It’s important when deciding whether or not to get the flu shot that you have the right information about the flu and the vaccine. There are many misconceptions about influenza and the flu vaccine, and these misconceptions can lead to a decrease in the number of people who are vaccinated.

Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by the Influenza A and B viruses. This virus usually appears in the late fall and early winter when cold temperatures allow the virus to spread more easily. The flu most commonly causes a sudden high fever, chills, sore throat and cough.

The flu can lead to more severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. This is particularly dangerous in the very young and very old, the chronically sick, and pregnant women as their immune systems are not as good at protecting them from disease even after they have been vaccinated.

Approximately 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians will get the flu each season, about 12,200 will be hospitalized and 3,500 will die.

The influenza virus is constantly mutating which means people need to be vaccinated each year. The flu vaccine is formulated using data on flu viruses that circulated around the world in the previous year. The flu vaccine formulation for the 2015/16 season was chosen in February of this year. It protects against two A strains including H1N1, and one or two B strains.

Last year the flu vaccine proved to be less effective than hoped. This is because the main circulating virus had mutated from the previous year. This mismatch is always a risk when formulating the vaccine as developers are only able to make a best guess. Few things in life are a sure-fire guarantee and this is true of the flu vaccine as well. But it is the best protection people have and is proven to greatly reduce the incidence of the flu.

While most people would agree that getting vaccinated against diseases such as polio and tetanus is a good idea, many of those same people decide not to get vaccinated against the flu. Some may think, “I’m healthy and am not around kids or the elderly so I don’t really need the flu vaccine.”

In fact, getting the flu vaccine can reduce the rate of infection in the elderly even if you aren’t around them.

It is even possible to be infected with the flu and have no symptoms, which means you can spread it without even knowing. When more people are vaccinated, it reduces the rate of flu in the entire population; therefore, less vulnerable people are exposed and infected. Getting the flu vaccine protects you and everyone else in your community.

So why should you get the flu vaccine? The most obvious answer is so that you don’t get the flu. No one likes being sick so why not do all you can to stay healthy? The flu vaccine is not perfect, but it is proven to reduce the likelihood you will get the flu and even other flu-like illnesses.

Finally, maintaining the health of our military personnel contributes to the effectiveness of the organization. This includes protecting yourself from preventable diseases such as influenza. Canadian Armed Forces members are fortunate to have access to the flu vaccine free of cost. While informed decision making includes questioning the necessity of the flu vaccine, the big question you should be left with is not “why should I get it?” but rather “why not?”

Military members can drop by the immunization clinic daily from 7 to 9 a.m. or they can go to their Care Delivery Unit.

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