Protect yourself against flu and pneumonia

Get a flu shot every year

Each year in Canada, the flu causes an estimated 12,200 hospital stays and 3,500 deaths, making it one of the country’s 10 leading causes of death.

Your best defence against the flu and flu-related complications is to get a flu shot every year, preferably before peak flu season starts in late fall. The flu shot is offered free of charge in all provinces and territories. The vaccine takes about 2 weeks to become effective so it’s better to get it as soon as it’s available. Flu season usually runs from November to April.

Anyone can get the flu, but people aged 65 and older are among those at greater risk because your immune system changes as you age, making it harder for your body to fight off infections. If you’re over 65, you’re also more likely to have health conditions which can worsen if you get the flu.

The flu can also lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, which is one of the major causes of hospitalizations in Canada. Pneumonia kills more than 6,000 Canadians a year, the majority of whom are seniors.

Consider a pneumonia shot at age 65+

That’s why medical professionals and governments encourage older adults to get an annual flu shot as well as a pneumonia vaccine. The flu shot is required every year because typically, the flu virus changes each year and a new type of vaccine has to be developed to prevent it. The pneumococcal or pneumonia vaccine, however, is usually only needed once, unless you have a chronic condition that puts you at higher risk.

The pneumonia vaccine protects about 50%-80% of people against pneumococcal infection. Vaccination also makes the disease milder for those who may catch it. In Canada, seniors and young children can get the pneumonia vaccine for free.

Some people have side effects from the pneumonia vaccine, but they’re usually minor and last only a short time. It’s common to have some swelling and soreness in the arm where the needle is given. Occasionally slight fever may occur.

If you’re worried about side effects from the flu shot, severe reactions are very rare and most people have no side effects other than soreness or swelling at the site of the injection or muscle aches.

Getting both the pneumonia vaccine and an annual seasonal flu shot significantly reduces the risk of serious infections and hospitalization. Speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner to determine the risks and benefits for you.

Standard and high-dose flu shots for 2019/2020

Two different flu shots are available to adults 65 and over for the 2019/2020 flu season – standard dose and high-dose. Both shots are effective. Speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner for more information but don’t delay getting vaccinated.

The standard-dose vaccine protects against 4 strains of flu virus. The high-dose vaccine formulated for adults 65 and over, (also called Fluzone® HighDose), protects against 3 strains of flu virus, but in higher doses.

When to avoid the flu shot

You should avoid getting the flu shot if you:

  • have serious allergies (anaphylaxis) to any ingredient in the vaccine. Your health care provider can tell you which ingredients are in the vaccine and if it is safe for you.
  • have experienced a serious allergic reaction from a previous flu shot.
  • developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (a rare condition whereby, your infection-fighting system attacks its own nervous system) within 6 weeks of a previous flu shot.

You should wait to get your flu shot if you have:

  • a severe acute illness with or without fever, in which case you should usually wait until the symptoms subside before getting the shot. People with a minor illness with or without a fever (for example, a cold) can still get the flu shot.

Other ways to protect yourself from the flu

In addition to getting the flu shot, you can also protect yourself and those around you by:

  • not touching your face
  • washing your hands often
  • coughing and sneezing into the bend of your arm, not into your hand
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that a lot of people touch, such as phones, doorknobs and television remotes

If you do get sick, stay home. Avoid close contact with other people until you feel well enough to get back to your usual day-to-day activities. This will help prevent the spread of the flu. Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if you don’t start to feel better after a few days or your symptoms get worse.

For more information or to speak to one of our Nurse Case Managers, contact us at 1-866-883-5956.

SOURCES

Government of Canada: Vaccinations

Government of Canada: Flu Shot

Government of Canada: Adult

Government of Ontario

Government of Ontario: Flu Facts

Government of Ontario: Effectiveness

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

The Globe and Mail

Statistics Canada

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