Preventing the Flu

Flu season is here. Is the flu shot safe? Where can you get the flu vaccine? Do you need to take it again? Our Flu Shot 2018 guide covers things you should know about for the 2018-2019 flu season from Walmart Canada.

Influenza, or “The Flu” as it is more generally referred to, is a common occurrence that typically makes its presence known in the fall months and ramps up in winter. For adults with babies and elderly parents who help out with the kids, the season is rife with potentially dangerous sick spells. The flu shot is our number one best shot at prevention, but is it safe? The Flu Shot 2018 guide shares what you need to know about the flu shot, and what you can expect in the 2018-2019 flu season.

Dr_Allison_McGeerDr. Allison McGeer is a Microbiologist, Infectious Disease Consultant, and the Director of Infection Control and the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Research Program at the Sinai Health System in Toronto, Canada, and a Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology and at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. She has been a member of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and the Ontario Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee.


Table of Contents:

  1. What is the flu?
  2. Is the flu shot safe?
  3. When should you get the flu shot?
  4. You had the flu shot last year; do you need to take it again?
  5. Where can you get the flu shot?

    1     What is the flu?

“Getting vaccinated against influenza each fall is the best way to help prevent infection,” says Dr. McGeer. Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a respiratory illness caused primarily by the influenza A and B viruses. While most people recover in seven to 10 days, severe illness can occur. Pregnant women, children under 60 months of age and seniors over the age of 65 are some of the groups at a greater risk of flu-related complications. Influenza and pneumonia are ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada. Each year in Canada alone, it is estimated that influenza causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths.

    2     Is the flu shot safe?

The Government of Canada recommends the flu vaccine for anyone aged six months and older. (Babies under six months old are too young to get the flu shot, but can get some protection if their mother got the flu shot while she was pregnant.) “For Canadians, getting a flu shot is safer than not getting a flu shot,” says Dr. McGeer.

Although one of the risks of getting the flu shot is an allergic reaction, according to Dr. McGeer these occurrences are very rare. However, she cautions, “If you know you have an allergy to a component of one of the flu vaccines, you shouldn’t get that one.”

Babies under 6 months are another group that should not receive the flu shot. “It’s not because there’s something wrong with the flu shot,” says Dr. McGeer, “but because it hasn’t been tested enough in young children to know how well it will work for them.

    3     When should you get the flu shot?

While Dr. McGeer notes that you can never predict what a flu season is going to be like, or exactly when it is going to start, she states: “We do know that it comes every winter—the season starts sometime between the end of November and the end of February.” It’s important, for prevention, to get the flu shot as soon as it becomes available as it can take about two weeks to take effect.

    4     You had the flu shot last year; do you need to take it again?

Annual vaccination is recommended because the body’s immune response from vaccination diminishes within a year. Also, because influenza viruses change often, the specific strains in the vaccine are reviewed each year by the World Health Organization. These strains are updated as necessary so that there is the greatest probability of matching circulating viruses.

This year, the vaccine has four strains of the virus, which forecasts greater efficacy, reports Dr. McGeer. “Flu vaccines with four strains are new”, she says. “This is the first year for most of Canada that the vaccine has four strains in it.”

Also new, there are now two different vaccines available for older adults: One is a high dose vaccine, the other is adjuvant. “The high dose vaccine has four times the antigen so you get a better immune response and better protection,” informs Dr. McGeer. “The adjuvant vaccine has adjuvant, a chemical that when you get it in your arm, helps recruit the immune system to respond to the antigen. It’s the same amount of antigen, but stimulates the immune system better.”

    5     Where can you get the flu shot?

According to the Government of Canada, the flu shot is free in most provinces in Canada. Flu shot 2018 is available from your doctor or nurse practitioner, and at participating Walmart Canada pharmacies and local public health units across the province. Children and youth between the ages of 2 and 17 can get the flu vaccine as a shot or nasal spray.

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Call your local Walmart pharmacy to book your flu shot appointment.

Be sure to check out Tips on How to Prevent the Flu to find out what Dr. McGeer has to say about preventing the flu. Interestingly, Dr. McGeer says that many people with the flu are asymptomatic, meaning they can spread it unwittingly. Also complicating things: The incubation period of influenza is usually two days, but can range from one to four days. Adults may be able to spread influenza to others from one day before symptoms start to approximately five days after.

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