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The Flu – I got the shot



Who is at risk from flu? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Yearly influenza epidemics can seriously affect all populations, but the highest risk of complications occur among children younger than age 2 years, adults aged 65 years or older, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain medical conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems.” Even if you are not at great risk of death from the flu, your symptoms may make you feel as if you were dying. You don’t want to get the flu if you can prevent it, and you certainly don’t want to be the cause of spreading it to small children or seniors. It is that time of year to get the flu shot in Alberta.

There have been great improvements made to the delivery of the flu shot in Alberta since the near panic-inducing outbreak of H1N1 in 2009 which lead to long line-ups at centralized distribution centres, finger pointing over the Calgary Flames receiving specialized treatment and loss of jobs by health care officials over the general confusion. Besides the special clinics, you can now get your flu shot from many pharmacy locations as well as at some medical clinics.

When the 2016/17 Influenza Immunization Program begins on October 24, our television news will show close-ups of squirming and crying kids as they get their needles. This is not at all a fair representation of the experience. The needles are getting so fine that I did not feel a thing when I received my shot. I have felt more from the proboscis of a large mosquito. I was given an information sheet indicating that I may feel mild pain at the injection site, and by the evening I did feel a little bit like I was punched in the arm. Otherwise, I did not suffer any of the other side effects which could include irritability and tiredness, headache, fever or chills. My maximum immunity will kick in about two weeks from now.

In Alberta, and probably many other places, there are several forms of the flu vaccine available. Generally, age and health are what the health care professionals take into consideration when deciding which is the appropriate choice. The vaccines have been prepared based on the knowledge of which 3 or 4 viruses are most likely to be making the rounds in a given flu season. The flu virus is made up of 8 strands of RNA surrounded by proteins (antigens). From the perspective of evolution, this ‘clever’ virus mutates frequently presenting new and different antigen coats. This disguises them in such a way that they are not recognized by our antibody binding sites. Thus the reason we must get vaccinated every year. Knowing that the influenza viruses are constantly changing, a partnership of National Influenza Centres around the world monitors the type of influenza viruses circulating. Flu vaccines have been in use for more than 60 years and are considered safe.

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