Parlez-en à votre pharmacien

octobre 11, 2017
Q:

I heard on the news that it was a rough influenza season in Australia and that could mean the same for Canada. Is there cause for concern?

A:

Early data from Australia around this year’s influenza outbreak suggest that there were many more confirmed cases than have been in the past few years. Media reports say there has been about a 50 per cent increase in flu cases this year compared to last. Outbreaks in the southern hemisphere can be indicative of what kind of flu season is to be expected up north.

Influenza is a virus that circulates annually and in some cases, it can cause serious illness that leads to hospitalization and even death. The virus typically circulates within the North American population between October and May although it normally peaks around January. The best way to prevent illness from influenza is through vaccination.  The Center for Disease Control reported that in the United States, during the 2015-16 flu season, vaccination prevented 5.1 million flu illnesses, 2.5 million flu-related medical visits and 71,000 flu related hospitalizations. 

The seasonal flu vaccine provides protection against strains of the virus that research has predicted will be the most prevalent during the upcoming season. This year’s vaccine has been modified from the one that was available for 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. The vaccine exists as either inactivated influenza virus (injectable vaccination) or a weakened form of the live virus (as is the case for the nasal spray). The goal is for a patient’s immune system to develop antibodies against the components of the vaccine so that the body is ready to fight the virus when it encounters it for real. In doing so, the hope is that the patient will not become ill with the virus or be able to spread it to others around them. It typically takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop, so it is best to get the vaccine as early as possible. October is considered ideal.

Influenza vaccine is currently recommended for anyone who is considered high risk for developing complications of the disease. This includes children ages six months through 18 years, seniors over the age of 65 and adults aged 19-64 who have other medical conditions that make them more susceptible to complications of an infection. Some examples include those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or those with compromised immune systems. Seniors are considered to be at the highest risk with 80-90 per cent of flu related deaths occurring in this population in recent years. Flu shots are also recommended for anyone who is not in these categories but who is in regular contact with someone who is. Pregnant moms should receive the shot as they will protect themselves and pass along protection to their newborn infant as well.

One of the most common reasons that people tell me they avoid the flu shot is that whenever they have gotten it in the past it has given them the flu. While it is possible to have some soreness at the injection site or develop a low-grade fever or have some aches, it is not possible to actually catch the flu from the flu shot as it is not active virus.  The nasal spray is live virus but has been weakened so that it cannot cause infection and are cold-adapted so that they cannot live in the lungs or other warmer areas within the body. 

Many parents request the nasal spray to avoid issues surrounding their children’s fear of needles. It should be noted that many organizations including the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices no longer recommend using the intranasal immunization due to concerns surrounding its effectiveness. As both a pharmacist and a father of two young boys, I’ve experienced these apprehensions first hand. The needles used to administer the flu shot are very small, and most children are surprised at how little discomfort is caused by the injection. I ensure that my kids get the shot every fall and remind them how easy it was the year before to ease their minds.

The pharmacies of New Brunswick now have flu vaccine on hand.  Ask your pharmacist if the time is right to receive yours.

Ryan Kennedy (BSc., Doctorate of Pharmacy, MBA) is a pharmacist/owner at Jean Coutu in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.