The time is upon us; the annual flu season is about to kick into high gear, and clinics around the province are stocking up on flu vaccines to keep British Columbians protected. But a shot isn’t the only way you can help keep your immune system up.
Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the nasty virus from attacking the body and running up a lovely laundry list of symptoms including fever, headache, sore throat and even nausea. For some, especially seniors and young children, these symptoms aren’t easily treated and can weaken the body, even causing viral or bacterial pneumonia or possibly death.
Between 4,000 and 8,000 people die from the flu-related illness every year across Canada, 90 per cent of those being seniors.
This year’s flu shot will protect against three common strains of influenza: H1N1, H3N2 and the new B strain. Children will be extra protected from a second B strain. It’s given in one dose and is especially vital for people at high risk of serious illness from the flu, people able to transmit the virus to those at high risk, people who provide essential community services and farmers working with poultry. As such, many are able to receive the shot for free.
“For healthy people, falling sick with the flu means a few days of feeling miserable, but for young children, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, it can lead to hospitalization and ICU admissions,” says VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar. “We’re encouraging everyone to get a flu shot so you’re not only protecting yourself, but also the high-risk people around you.”
Nearly 425,000 doses of the vaccine are being distributed starting Wednesday, October 21 and will be available at family doctors, walk-in clinics, pharmacists and public health clinics.
Who can receive the shot for free? Vancouver Coastal Health has provided a list of all types of people eligible for a free vaccine:
People 65 years and older and their caregivers/household contacts;
Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities;
Children and adults with chronic health conditions, including obesity, and their household contacts;
Children and adolescents (six months to 18 years) with conditions treated for long periods of time with acetylsalicylic acid, and their household contacts;
Healthy children age six months to five years of age
Household contacts and caregivers of infants age zero to 59 months;
Aboriginal peoples (on and off reserve);
All pregnant women and their household contacts;
Health care and other care providers in facilities and community settings who are capable of transmitting influenza to those at high risk of influenza complications;
People who provide essential services including first responders and correction officers;
People who work with live poultry;
People planning to visit loved ones in a health care facility or who will take family members to outpatient appointments
Beginning December 1 and through to March 31, 2016, anyone visiting a health care facility must either have had the flu shot or wear a mask.
For those unwilling or unable to be vaccinated, there are a number of other steps they can take to help stay protected from the virus.
Wash your hands
Washing your hands throughout the day is one of the best ways to prevent any virus, including influenza and the common cold. Making sure you use hot water and plenty of soap and scrubbing will ensure germs are not present on your hands when they come in contact with your mouth, eyes or nose. Bacteria can live on surfaces for up to two days, so wiping down door knobs and other commonly used surfaces will also help to prevent the spread of the flu.
Stay well rested and relaxed
Getting enough sleep every night and effectively managing stress is an excellent way to build up your immune system. Eight hours each night is the recommended amount of sleep. Also, set aside time in your day to let your mind and body relax – take a hot bath in the evening, catch up on your TV schedule or read a book – whatever you do to manage stress.
Oil of oregano
It may taste nasty but oil of oregano is a natural bacteria-killer than some alternative health enthusiasts say works wonders on relieving sinus symptoms like sore throat and runny nose. A few drops of the oil can be mixed with juice and swallowed or combined with hot water to inhale the steam several times a day when you feel your immune system weakening.
Oscillococcinum is an oral medication taken in doses and dissolved under the tongue prior to the start of the flu season that homeopathic doctors say helps prevent the virus or reduce the symptoms associated with influenza. While its efficacy is unsupported by science, it is one of the most popular flu prevention methods used in over 50 countries and particularly favoured in France.