'It does not cause influenza': Sask. doctor recommends flu shots

Doctors weigh in on the importance of the flu shot, and why would-be mothers should consider getting their shot this year.

Flu season is nearly upon us

Doctors are addressing misconceptions which pregnant mothers may have about the safety of flu shots. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With cold weather settling in, flu season is just around the corner.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition this year's flu season could be mild.

"Our flu season is usually based on the southern hemisphere's season that is just ending, and in the southern hemisphere, they did not have a terrible year this year," Bhardwaj said.

He said last year's flu strain was particularly tough to deal with as the H3N2 strain mutated beyond what the season's flu shot could deal with.

This year, the vaccine is equipped with the capability of handling the most common strains of both influenza "A" and "B" which are prevalent.

Bhardwaj encouraged expectant mothers, people who cannot afford to get sick, seniors or people who work with seniors, people with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions and people who are at a higher risk to contract the flu to get their flu shots as soon as possible.

"Indigenous people are on the list of high-risk folks because they tend to be hit harder by the influenza virus," Bhardwaj said.

He also said that this year, people with neurological disorders should strongly consider getting their flu shot.

Pregnant mothers strongly encouraged to get flu shot

Dr. George Carson, an obstetrician who practices maternal fetal medicine at Regina Hospital, said he frequently encourages pregnant women to get their flu shots as they have more to gain by getting it than non-pregnant women do.

"If a woman gets flu and is pregnant at the time, she is much more likely to be seriously sick than if she gets flu when she's not pregnant," Carson said.

Bhardwaj said pregnant women are five to 10 times more likely to be hospitalized from influenza than non-pregnant women. He said babies exposed to the flu are at higher risk of being born prematurely or being born at a low birth weight.

Carson said sometimes expecting mothers can hesitate in getting their flu shots once they learn the virus is present in the vaccine.

"It does not cause influenza, it does not cause any adverse effect, except for maybe a sore arm," Carson said. "Vaccines are enormously safe and effective."

Dr George Carson says he frequently encourages pregnant mothers to get their flu shots, as they have more to benefit by getting it than non-pregnant mothers. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

He said the manufacturers of the flu shot use a process to weaken or kill the flu virus but preserve portions of it beforehand. That preservation process makes the virus serve as the antigen, or substance which causes the human body to create antibodies and fight the flu.

Carson said flu shots are available from family doctors or pharmacies and expected public health to announce the start of flu season later this month or in early November.

With files from The Morning Edition


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