BCCDC encourages British Columbians to protect themselves from influenza

With the flu having already hit hard in parts of eastern Canada, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is encouraging British Columbians to take additional measures to protect themselves before influenza ramps up in B.C.

“Influenza activity has been fairly mild in B.C. so far this year, but the winter is long and the risk is not yet over,” explains Dr. Danuta Skowronski, BCCDC physician epidemiologist. “It would be wise to learn from the experience in eastern Canada and prepare for that now, because the same could still happen here.”

The influenza season typically spans November to April, and the peak can happen anytime during that period. As in past years, the vaccine is recommended and free for the elderly, very young children, and people of all ages with chronic medical conditions as they are at highest risk of hospitalization and death due to complications from influenza.

“It is not too late for people to be immunized, but for people at high risk, now is also a good time to speak with their doctor about how to get antiviral treatment early if they develop influenza,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. “As no vaccine is 100 per cent effective and as influenza viruses are constantly changing, it makes good sense for those at high risk to take additional measures to protect

In December, the Ministry of Health Services expanded Pharmacare coverage for two brands of antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza. These antivirals are now covered for individuals who are at high risk for complications and who have flu symptoms during the 2010-11 influenza season, as well as for all residents of long-term care facilities.

“Most young healthy people will fully recover from the flu with rest and symptomatic care. They typically don’t need a prescription,’ said Skowronski. ‘But those at high risk may be aided in their recovery from influenza by antiviral medication. Having a plan for early treatment is important as these antiviral drugs work best if they are taken within the first 48 hours – and especially within the first 12 hours – of influenza symptoms beginning.”

Influenza can be a serious, respiratory illness that comes on suddenly with fever and cough as well as general aches and fatigue. Other ways to protect yourself and others is to get plenty of rest and fluids; stay away from work or public places when sick; cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve rather than your hands; dispose of tissues immediately after use; and wash your hands frequently.

Flu shots are still available through public health units, physicians’ offices and trained pharmacists. Use the Flu Clinic Locator to find the nearest public health unit or pharmacy, call your family physician or check your regional health authority’s website for more information on receiving the vaccine.

For more information on the flu virus, visit www.bccdc.ca or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, to speak to a nurse 24 hours a day/seven days a week.

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