By HEATHER STANLEY
With the recent arrival of this year’s first snowfall, it’s a sure sign that winter is approaching. Along with the coming frigid weather and scarves, flu season is just around the corner.
Flu activity is generally at its highest during winter months, although outbreaks can start in early October and can last until May. The flu shot is a way to prevent contracting viruses, but only a portion of the population gets their yearly shots, subjecting many to influenza.
The vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, helping a person become more immune to current strains. Since there are different strains of the flu due to the progression and mutation of the virus, it is recommended everyone get a flu shot yearly.
“I think it’s around 25 per cent of the population that doesn’t want the flu shot,” said Nancy Bolden, a health-care aid in Walkerton for 24 years. “Mostly it’s because they don’t understand what the flu shot does or they think that it’s something that the government’s created that actually doesn’t work.”
According to the Ontario’s government’s website, 10 to 20 per cent of the population gets the flu each year. Many people mix up influenza, thinking it’s a stomach-type virus.
Symptoms of the common cold and the flu are similar. For example, both can give runny, stuffed noses and sore throats. However, there are differences. Influenza also has frequent fatigue, head and muscle aches and sudden high fevers.
Although anyone can get the flu, influenza generally effects children, the elderly and those with low immune systems. In Ontario’s recent YouTube video on the flu, Dr. Robin Williams, associate chief medical officer of health, said that last year more than 700 children under 10 with influenza were hospitalized and eight deaths were reported.
“It takes two weeks for the flu shot to process in your body and if you’re sick when you have the flu shot you’ll be sick almost immediately with flu,” Bolden said. “You could have a flu virus in your body and it doesn’t show for three days and you’ve gotten your flu shot three days before. Now you think that the flu shot has given you the flu but in essence you were already sick and didn’t know it.” Bolden said this is the reason why a lot of people don’t believe in the flu shot.
Influenza can be quite serious. In Bolden’s 24 years as a health-care aid, she’s had two outbreaks of influenza in the retirement home where she works. During those times, the local health unit shut the home to the public so as not to spread the virus into the community. Staff were required to wear face shields, masks, gloves and be covered completely. Only when the home was symptom-free for 10 days could they reopen to the public. An outbreak can last anywhere from three to eight weeks.
The flu shot is free and available at health-care providers’ offices and public health clinics. Conestoga College is offering free flu shots this month to staff and students. On Nov. 20, flu shots will be available at the Doon campus from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in Room 1D17. Cambridge’s service runs from 3 to 4 p.m. in Room A1303 and on Nov. 25, the Waterloo campus will have shots from 10 a.m. until noon in Room 1C02. Everyone is required to bring their health card.