Symptoms of seasonal influenza are nothing to sniff at.
Good news for parents is that for the first time in the province, children aged two to five, can be vaccinated through a nasal spray instead of a shot in the arm.
“New for kids this flu season is a nasal spray called FluMist,” confirmed Dr. Rob Parker, Interior Health medical officer. “It has been available in the States for a few years and after review by the Canadian Immunization Committee (CIC) it has been approved for use Canada-wide.”
The intranasal vaccine provides greater immunity than the traditional subcutaneous (beneath the skin) method because it delivers a live, attenuated virus, explained Parker.
“The nasal route provides kids better protection however for certain risks groups the standard vaccine is available and may be preferred.”
Influenza is more dangerous than the common cold for children, and commonly requires medical care before they turn five years old, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
Children with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system are at especially high risk of developing severe complications, and each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to flu-related illness, reports the BCCDC.
Although it is too early to predict whether this flu season will be as virulent as last year, similar strains are expected to circulate this winter, said Parker.
“In my experience over the last 25 years, nobody can predict how much or how little flu we get the coming winter,” said Parker. “However, flu vaccinations are a proven, safe and effective way to reduce the chance of getting the flu,” said Dr. Parker, adding, “If people don’t get it, they can’t spread it.”
People who receive annual immunizations build up a wide variety of antibodies to different strains of flu, and if an unexpected virus circulates this winter, infection can minimized or avoided, explained Parker. “That is the benefit of getting your flu shot annually,” he added.
The influenza vaccine, which should be widely available this fall, will contain updated strains of H1N1, H3N2 and a new but related strain of Influenza B.
Parker said the vaccine supply will be available for health units in October, and flu clinics are expected to kick off the season in November.
Influenza is a serious respiratory illness caused by a virus that is spread from an infected person through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms may include cough, fever, fatigue, muscle weakness and headache.
Between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians can die of influenza and its complications annually, depending on the severity of the season, according to the BCCDC.
Those eligible for shots at the free clinics, include people 65 or older and their caregivers, healthy children six months to less than five years of age, pregnant women in the third trimester during flu season, residents in nursing homes and chronic care facilities, owners and operators of poultry farms, very obese adults, and those who provide care or services in settings that house persons at high risk for developing influenza complications.
The CIC is a federal and provincial committee established in 2004 to act as a mechanism for national, provincial, and territorial collaboration to work in partnership to improve immunization programs across the country.