Kitchener-Waterloo

Flu season peaking in Waterloo region, public health official says

Public Health Ontario's Dr. Bryna Warshawsky says this year's vaccine is a good match for the flu strain that is circulating, but warns that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in after you've had the shot.

'You don't know you're at your peak until you're past it, but we're definitely in the middle of it.'

Flu season is in full swing in many parts of Canada, including in Waterloo region. Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, a public health physician with Public Health Ontario, said this year's flu shot is well-matched to the A-H3N2 strain of the flu virus that is currently circulating. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Get ready for more sniffling, sneezing, muscle aches and fevers – flu season is underway in Waterloo region.

As of Dec. 31, there have been seven confirmed cases of influenza A in Waterloo region, but those numbers could increase as samples taken over the holidays are processed, said Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, a public health physician with Public Health Ontario, in an interview with CBC KW.

The number of flu cases are on the rise across the country, except for in the Maritimes.

"This is expected, because this is generally when we do see influenza peaking. We don't know yet whether we're at our peak or whether that's going to come in the next couple of weeks, because you don't know you're at your peak until you're past it, but we're definitely in the middle of it," she said.

'Can't get the flu from the flu shot'

In an average year, about 30 per cent of people living in Ontario get a flu shot, Warshawsky said.

She has heard all the excuses not to get the vaccine, including those who claim the shot has made them sick in the past.

"You certainly can't get the flu from the flu shot," she said. "There's lots of other viruses circulating at the time that you get your flu vaccine, so sometimes coincidentally you'll have the flu shot and then you'll pick up another virus that's around, so you'll falsely attribute the symptoms from the virus you picked up to the flu shot."

She said people also don't take the flu seriously.

When you get the flu shot, not only are you protecting yourself, you're also preventing transmission from yourself to other people who are more at risk for the complications.- Dr. Bryna Warshawsky , Public Health Ontario

"People don't appreciate the severity of influenza. They think influenza is just a cold. And, in fact, influenza can be more severe for sure than a cold, because for most healthy people it causes more severe symptoms. It causes us to feel headache, fever, sore muscles, sore throat. We have to go to bed," she said.

"But the bigger difference is that influenza can result in complications, so it can cause hospitalizations, pneumonia and it can result in death," she said.

"When you get the flu shot, not only are you protecting yourself, you're also preventing transmission from yourself to other people who are more at risk for the complications."

Vaccine good match for circulating virus

While public health is unable to determine how effective this year's vaccine is compared to other years, Warshawsky said the strain currently circulating is A-H3N2, and that strain is well-matched to the strain in the flu shot.

If you haven't received the vaccine yet, it's not too late, but be aware it takes two weeks for the vaccine to kick in and supply is running low. On Sunday, a pharmacist at Shopper's Drug Mart on Eramosa Road in Guelph said nearly all stores had run out of the vaccine and encouraged customers to make phone calls before heading out.

Region of Waterloo Public Health said it has already distributed nearly 96,000 doses to pharmacies, doctors offices and long-term care facilities, and is prepared to hand out more. Between October 2015 and April 2016, the region's public health department handed out 100,000 doses of that year's vaccine.

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