Saskatoon – Saskatoon Health Region officials are urging residents to get immunized after seeing signs of a potentially difficult influenza season.
"It's difficult to predict exactly what will happen here in North America, but what we are seeing happening reminds us all how important immunization and hand-washing is in managing the spread of disease," says Dr. Simon Kapaj, Saskatoon Health Region's deputy medical health officer. "We are already seeing more cases of influenza-related hospitalizations compared to this time last year. Combine that with a severe season in the Southern hemisphere, which sometimes is an indicator of our season to come, and it's enough that we should all be making time to do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones."
Dr. Simon Kapaj receiving his influenza immunization.
Today, Saskatoon Health Region opened its public and employee influenza immunization clinics. Anyone six months and older can get a free influenza immunization at any one of the mass immunization clinics that the Region offers, including the one at Prairieland Park from Friday, October 27 through to Sunday, October 29. Other public health clinics have been scheduled across the Region, with locations determined after reviewing demand, and targeting public health resources towards those areas most at risk.
"We also have around 97 pharmacies that are offering free influenza immunizations this year, which is a huge complement to our services in protecting our community, including our seniors," explains Risa Ledray, Public Health immunization manager, Saskatoon Health Region. "However, children between the ages of six months and eight years must receive the vaccine at a public health clinic site, a physician's office or with a routine childhood vaccination appointment. We have also adjusted mass clinic hours, and increased the number of booked appointments to assist with families in getting immunized."
While viruses are unpredictable and constantly changing, illnesses seen so far are mainly being caused by H3N2 virus. Public health officials point out this virus typically brings an influenza season marked by increased hospitalizations and deaths. The influenza vaccine this year includes protection against two influenza A subtypes (H3N2 and H1N1) and two influenza B like strains.
"People at high risk of influenza-related complications or hospitalization need to be immunized," says Ledray. "This includes pregnant women, adults and children with chronic health conditions such as cardiac or pulmonary disorders, diabetes, cancer, renal; disease; residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities; adults 65 years of age and older; and all children ages 6 to 59 months of age."
Public health officials say it's just as important for those who care for or are in frequent contact with these high-risk individuals be immunized. This includes health care and other care providers in facilities and community settings, and household contacts.
"The season has started slightly early this year and that is why it is critical that everyone seek out and receive their influenza immunization. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body's immune response to fully respond and for you to be protected," says Kapaj. "Influenza is unpredictable, and the vaccine is the safest and single most effective way to protect yourself and your family. The more individuals immunized, the greater the protection for our community."
For additional information on the flu and the Region's influenza immunization clinics, visit 4flu.ca.