With influenza season just around the corner, the Vancouver Island Health Authority has stockpiled ammunition to go another round with the flu bug.
Peak flu season typically runs from December through January, but in a bad year it can get underway as early as November and hang on until April.
People most at risk for suffering worst from the flu virus are those over 65, people with pre-existing medical conditions that have compromised their immune systems and children six months to 23 months old whose respiratory systems are less able to deal with congestion caused by the virus.
The health authority has 68,000 vaccine doses for the central Island.
“Right now things are actually very quiet,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, central Island medical health officer. “The problem with influenza is all of a sudden you’re sitting there in this lull of belief that things aren’t going too far and then it just takes off. The best protection anybody can do is get their annual flu shots.”
In the most severe cases, influenza can trigger vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia and even death.
This year’s vaccines are designed to target the California, Perth and Brisbane strains of the virus. Hasselback said these strains are fairly typical of a normal flu season.
Influenza strains are named for the places where the strains are isolated, not for where they originated.
Hasselback said the immunizations provide additional protection against other strains and mutations of strains since the vaccines trigger the body to ramp up its antibody production.
Vaccinations also help prevent the spread of the virus, which is why health workers and emergency responders who deal regularly with high risk patients are all immunized.
Vaccines are provided free of charge for people who fall within the high risk groups. For all others there is a charge of $20 to $30 per vaccination.
Because the influenza virus continually mutates, people must receive new vaccinations annually.
“The vaccine produces a reasonably good immune response, but it’s not long lasting,” Hasselback said.
Chris Crabtree, public health nurse, is emphasizing people with infants get their children immunized.
“We’re really concerned about the six- to 23-month-olds and their household contacts because we don’t get a huge uptake of that population,” Crabtree said.
Flu shot clinics in Nanaimo are being held from Oct. 18 to Nov. 19.
For more information about influenza, please call the Flu Information Line at 250-740-6947.
To find out if you qualify for free immunization, please call the Flu Qualification Line at 250-755-6252.