Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Reduce Your Risk for Influenza

Dr. Jan Goossens,
Chief of Staff
The flu season is beginning to ramp up across Ontario. Here in Muskoka the local health unit is reporting increased numbers of influenza cases. If you haven’t obtained your flu shot yet, it’s not too late to get immunized. This month’s blog is dedicated to that topic and has been prepared by Dr. Jan Goossens, the Chief of Staff at MAHC.

Influenza, or the seasonal flu, is a common and highly contagious infectious respiratory disease that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Influenza viruses can change rapidly and that’s why there is a new flu shot made every year to protect against what is anticipated to be the three most prevalent circulating virus strains.

This year there was a slight change in one of the viruses covered by the vaccine, which means the virus is not quite the same as what is targeted by the vaccine. But this doesn’t mean that you should opt out of getting vaccinated this year. Past experience shows there could still be some protection against the variant strain of the virus. The original virus continues to be around and is well covered by the vaccine. As well, the vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain of flu and a strain of influenza B. If you’ve been immunized but develop the flu, the symptoms will likely be less severe.

The bottom line is the vaccine is still your best protection against influenza.

Some of the symptoms of influenza are similar to the common cold, but the flu almost always presents with a sudden onset of cough and fever. You may also feel fatigue, muscle aches, severe headache and a decreased appetite. Sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms of the flu. The flu lasts longer and is more severe than a cold.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is urging everyone to make sure they are immunized against the flu and we are doing the same at MAHC. We are urging all of our staff and physicians to get vaccinated. Getting the flu shot is a personal choice, but we hope you will consider it for everyone’s wellbeing. When you get the flu shot, you’re not just protecting yourself; you’re preventing the virus from spreading to the rest of your family or to co-workers, particularly those who have medical conditions.
It’s also important to remember the age old rules for protecting yourself:
  • Clean your hands frequently with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water;
  • Stay home if you are ill;
  • Stay at least six feet away from people who are ill;
  • Avoid touching your face;
  • Frequently clean and disinfect commonly touched items and surfaces;
  • Cough and sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands.

And don’t forget: Influenza is contagious to others for 24 hours before you feel any symptoms and for an additional five days from the onset of symptoms.
If you have flu-like symptoms and are at greater risk of developing complications (individuals under the age of six and over the age of 65 and those with a compromised immune system), contact a health care provider as soon as possible. See your family doctor about antiviral medication, get lots of rest, eat healthy foods and drink lots of fluids. Please avoid visiting the hospital’s Emergency Department unless your symptoms worsen. This is because many of our patients in the hospital are at greater risk of complications from the flu. They tend to be more susceptible to infection and that’s why we ask that you do not visit if you are ill with any respiratory illness.

We also want to reassure you that measures are in place to reduce the risk of exposure to the flu at the hospitals. We will be monitoring the situation in the community and are preparing for a potential increase in admissions this holiday season. If we experience an influenza outbreak at the hospitals, we will advise the community about restrictions or limitations on visiting hours.

More information about influenza is available on the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's website.