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Flu cases on the rise: The flu shot can help

Doctors have been reporting increased cases of influenza (flu) in Central Canada over the last few weeks. Flu season has started earlier this year and is causing more severe disease in the elderly.

This year’s flu strain is different from last year’s. While H1N1 was the culprit in 2009/10 and primarily affected younger patients, the H3N2 strain is abundant this year. The number of confirmed flu cases in Ontario is 6 times higher than the average for early January, according to the province’s health ministry.

Protect yourself and your family: get the flu shot

The best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get a flu shot. Every year, the components of the flu shot change to reflect the most common types of flu strains that year. For the 2010/11 flu season, the World Health Organization has mandated that flu vaccines contain three specific flu strains. These are H1N1-like, H3N2-like, and the Victoria lineage-like antigens. The H3N2 component of the vaccine is new. It was added as part of the vaccine because the H3N2 strain is most abundant this year. The H1N1 component is derived from the 2009 H1N1 virus. The Victoria lineage component remains unchanged from last year’s flu vaccine.

Because the most common flu strains change each year, and as a result the flu shot changes each year, WHO recommends annual immunization. The flu shot is safe and has minimal side effects.

The flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, especially those at high risk for flu-related complications. These include:

  • children 6 to 23 months of age
  • pregnant women
  • the elderly
  • residents of nursing homes
  • people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disorders, cancer, diabetes, immune deficiency or immune suppression, kidney disease, anemia, or hemoglobinopathy
  • young people treated for long periods of time with acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin)

Health care workers are capable of passing the flu to those at high risk of flu-related complications. They should be immunized. Likewise, adults and children who come into close contact with those at high risk, and day care workers who care for children under 2 years of age should get the flu shot.

Original sources: Public Health Agency of Canada; CBC News

For more information, see the Influenza (Flu) section in Health A-Z.

Sherene Chen-See
Medical writer/editor