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A Good but not Perfect Solution for a Killer Disease

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The Public Health Agency of Canada reports on diseases affecting Canadians, including the flu. As you can see in the graph below there are thousands of hospitalizations each year in Canada for influenza. In fact the data from the Public Health Agency is an underestimate because some provinces don’t report and some infections may be undetected.

graph1

As well, hundreds of Canadians die each year from influenza, as can be seen in the second graph. It is important to note that this year’s data includes up to January 10th.  It is hard to predict what this year’s final numbers will be but there is potential it could be a bad year.

Several systematic reviews have shown that flu shots are effective. That does not mean that getting a flu shot is any sort of guarantee that you won’t get the flu. It does lower your chances, however, and may make flu a bit milder if you do catch it.   In truth many medical treatments are much less than 100% effective but we still use them.

There can be slight negative reactions to flu shots, such as arm soreness or a bit of a funky feeling.  What flu shots don’t do is give you the flu because the vaccine is made from a dead virus that cannot cause the flu.

graph2

Recent reports in the media tell us that this year’s flu shot is not a great match for the virus that is currently making the rounds.  That means that it will not be quite as effective as if it were a good match. It does not mean that it is totally ineffective.

Let’s be clear on one thing. I am a psychologist, not an infectious disease specialist. So what is a psychologist doing writing about the flu?  Because behavior can be an important way to prevent the flu.

Flu spreads via droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. It also spreads from the flu virus being on a surface and then being transferred on the hands to the mouth or nose.

People who have weak immune systems because of very advanced age or because of a disease or treatment of a disease, such as cancer, are particularly vulnerable. You never know if your co worker has a child or partner or aged parent at home who is immunocompromised.

Here are the behaviors that you can do to reduce the flu in yourself and others around you.

  1. Get the flu shot. It helps prevent the flu. If you don’t have the flu, you won’t spread it.
  2. If you are sick. Stay at home. Don’t spread the flu (or a cold).
  3. Cough and sneeze into your sleeve. Throw out tissues when you use them.
  4. Clean your hands every chance you can by washing with soap and water or using alcohol based hand sanitizers.

Don’t be responsible for infecting someone else.

~Dr. Patrick McGrath

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