Call it bird flu. Call it swine flu. Call it what you like – just know that this year the H1N1 influenza is back and taking aim at children and adults.
And this winter H1N1 is on the rise in northern B.C., prompting Northern Health to remind people that it’s still not too late to get immunized against the flu.
“We know that viruses spread more easily during peak season for these illnesses, and that some people such as seniors and people of any age with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for complications,” said Northern Health medical health officer Dr. Rakel Kling.
“It’s not too late for people to get the flu shot, which this year has been shown to be a good match with the strains of the virus in circulation.”
Last year and the year before, there were severe epidemics due to the H3N2 kind of influenza A virus. This year, the H1N1 kind of influenza A is mostly circulating instead.
Both cause similar illness with fever, cough, aches and fatigue but H3N2 viruses are hardest on the elderly, whereas H1N1 viruses tend to affect more children and non-elderly adults.
This season’s vaccine gives protection against both H3N2 and H1N1 viruses, as well as influenza B.
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) advised particularly high-risk individuals and their close contacts to be vaccinated.
High-risk individuals are those with underlying medical conditions like heart and lung disease or those with weakened immune systems that make it harder to fight respiratory infections.
“Children and non-elderly adults with underlying medical conditions may especially need protection. They should be vaccinated and so should their close contacts,” said influenza lead at the BCCDC Dr. Danuta Skowronski.
“Since it takes about two weeks for the influenza vaccine to induce protection, now is the time for high-risk individuals and their close contacts to get vaccinated, if they haven’t already.”
In addition to vaccination, there are other steps people can take to reduce their own risk and minimize the spread of influenza and other viruses to others.
* Washing your hands frequently especially if you’ve been out in public.
* Avoiding touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose.
* Coughing and sneezing into your elbow.
* If you use a tissue, make sure to dispose of it properly and wash your hands.
* If you feel unwell, stay home,
so you don’t pass your infection onto others.
, especially those who may be at higher risk.
* If you are in close contact with people at higher risk of serious complications from influenza, get the vaccine and don’t visit them if you feel unwell.
“Influenza is a truly lousy gift for anyone to receive. If you become sick with flu-like illness this holiday season, stay home. Don’t re-gift this miserable illness to others,” advised Dr. Skowronski.