Flu should be moderate, vaccine a good match this year, Ottawa Public Health says

The flu is expected to be mild to moderate this year and the vaccine effective for the strains of flu going around, according to Ottawa Public Health's associate medical officer of health.

High-dose flu shot available for first time in Ontario

Health officials believe the flu shot this year will be a good match for the flu this year. (Philippe Turgeon/Radio-Canada)

The flu is expected to be mild to moderate this year and the vaccine effective for the strains of flu going around, according to Ottawa Public Health's associate medical officer of health.

Dr. Geneviève Cadieux said health officials can never know for sure how bad the flu will be because the virus can always change, but they do look to Australia as a predictor.

Australia had fewer hospitalizations and deaths this year than the year before, and health officials expect the same pattern here.

"We hope for the best, we prepare for the worst," Cadieux said. 

In Australia, the strain most frequently seen was A/H1N1 and this year the vaccine is a good match, Cadieux said. It is also a good match for the B strains and a "reasonable match" for the A/H3N2 strain. 

First flu clinic Saturday

The first flu clinic at Ottawa Public Health starts Saturday at All Saints High School in Kanata from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. and other clinics can be found online

"It's the best protection against the flu and not only does it protect you, but it protects those around you as well so your friends, your family, and your whole community," Cadieux said. 

Although in the last few years the efficacy of the flu shot has been low, Cadieux said it's still the best chance of being protected.

"So if I was to tell you that, you know, if you were to buy a lottery ticket and you had a one in two chance of winning, I think you'd buy that ticket, so it's a little bit the same for the flu shot … so I think that's still pretty good odds," she said.  

First time for high-dose vaccine

This year there are three different types of vaccine products that protect against four different flu viruses. For the first time in Ontario, there's a high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older which can help people with weakened immune systems. There is also a nasal spray for children age two to 17. Kids might get a stuffy nose, but that's a normal reaction, she said. 

Dr. Geneviève Cadieux, Ottawa Public Health's associate medical officer of health, says the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

In Ottawa, more than 300 family doctors can provide the flu shot and more than 200 pharmacies.

While pharmacies can be more convenient, pharmacists cannot immunize children under five years old or give the high-dose flu vaccine, so if someone over 65 years old wants one they have to see their doctor or go to a Ottawa Public Health clinic.

Cadieux said everyone older than six months old should get the flu shot.

She said it's especially important for people who are at risk of severe illness from the flu which includes children under five, people older than 65, pregnant woman, people with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes, and those who live group settings such as long-term-care homes or retirement communities. 

Tornadoes delayed vaccine deliveries

The tornadoes and power outages that hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region five weeks ago have impacted the delivery of vaccines. The outages meant some refrigerators did not remain cold enough and some vaccine was wasted because it was not potent enough. Ottawa Public Health says 139 fridges were affected, but waste totals have yet to be calculated.

"There was a lot of work that had to be done to get that wasted vaccine back and replace it and that interfered with our usual delivery of flu vaccine so we're a little bit behind in terms of our delivery," Cadieux said.

To date, Ottawa Public Health has distributed just over 120,000 flu vaccine doses to hospitals, long-term-care centres, retirement homes and health-care provider offices. This does not include the flu vaccines distributed to pharmacies. Last year more than 400,000 doses of vaccine were distributed. 

She said by the end of Friday, most clinics should have their flu shots. 

Cadieux reminds people to also wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer and if you are ill, stay at home and don't visit long-term-care homes or hospitals and cough into your arm and not your hand or the air, to help prevent the spread of the flu.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.