The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is encouraging Ontarians to get immunized as ’flu activity continues to increase across the province.
And while there have been far fewer confirmed ’flu cases in the north than in the south, it does not mean we should let our guard down, warned Dr. James Arthurs, medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit.
“Last year, we had the pandemic of H1N1 influenza virus,” he noted. “This year, the predominant circulating virus is H3N2, which is different but in the same class as Influenza A.
“The fortunate part is we have not, in Northwestern Ontario, had much activity—certainly no different from what we expect from the fall and winter season.
“Southern Ontario has quite a lot of influenza cases,” Dr. Arthurs added. “Some of the concerns are that from all of the hype from last year, many people may not be getting vaccinated; that they’re a little more aloof about that.
“Actually, our vaccination rate so far has been right on par with what we did last year, as well as previous years,” he remarked.
“We may not have the same kind of outbreak, because there have been decreased vaccination rates in the south.”
That said, recent headlines about increased ’flu activity provide “a great opportunity to remind the public that they should be getting their ’flu vaccine if they haven’t already,” Dr. Arthurs stressed.
The good news is the H3N2 strain is in the vaccine being administered, along with the H1N1 strain from last year.
“In the spring of every year, they create next year’s ’flu vaccine,” Dr. Arthurs explained. “Last year, the vaccine didn’t include H1N1, so then they had to create that vaccine and do it separate.
“This year, H1N1 and H3N2 are in the current vaccine.”
Dr. Arthurs said he’s aware there have been a few people in the Kenora-Rainy River catchment area who had been hospitalized due to the ’flu, but they have since recovered and gone home.
“Right now, I am not aware of any hospitalizations with influenza. But we’ll have some—we do every year,” he reasoned.
People identified by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as being at the highest risk of influenza include:
•adults and children with chronic health conditions;
•all pregnant women;
•all children under five years;
•all residents of long-term care and chronic care homes;
•people age 65 and older;
•people who are morbidly obese;
•all aboriginal people; and
•family members and those who provide care for people in the high-risk group
As in the past, the vaccine is free to Ontario residents over six months of age.
The ’flu is a serious, acute respiratory illness that’s easily transmitted person to person, or even through direct contact with surfaces contaminated by the influenza virus.
But it easily can be avoided with a simple vaccination, according to the ministry in a press release.
People are further encouraged to follow other infection-prevention behaviours, such as washing hands thoroughly and often, sneezing and coughing into their sleeves, and staying home when they’re sick.
In the past, seasonal ’flu has resulted in roughly 19,000 hospitalizations every year in Ontario, as well as 300 deaths annually.
Studies have shown that ’flu shots decrease the incidence of pneumonia, hospital admission, and death in the elderly.
Physician visits, hospitalization, and death in high-risk persons less than 65 years of age also are reduced.
The Fort Frances health unit office offers ’flu shots by appointment every Wednesday. To make an appointment, call 274-9827.