Why is it important to protect yourself from flu – especially this year? This flu season comes while we are already fighting a global COVID-19 pandemic, and these two contagious respiratory illnesses both present with very similar symptoms.
According to Dr. Mike Haddad, Chief of Staff, protecting yourself and others during this year’s flu season coupled with COVID-19 will not only benefit you and your loved ones, but also help ease the burden on healthcare workers and retain capacity in our hospitals.
Q: What does the hospital do to prepare for flu season?
A: Each year we launch a campaign to encourage staff and Professional Staff to get vaccinated and make the process as easy as possible. The campaign includes tactics to raise awareness of the importance of being immunized and dispel myths about the vaccine and provide the vaccine in convenient locations throughout the hospital.
Q: Why is it so important for people to get their flu vaccines?
While we are all worried about COVID-19, it is important to remember that flu can also be a serious disease, particularly in those with underlying health conditions. There’s no way to tell flu symptoms — like fever, headaches and muscle pains — from COVID-19 symptoms. As of now, we don’t have the COVID vaccine in Canada, but we do have a tried and tested vaccine for influenza (the flu). Getting vaccinated for flu protects us and our families. When healthcare workers are vaccinated it also protects them, their families and their patients, some of whom may not be able to get vaccinated for flu. If we have a high vaccination rate for flu, it can also take some of the guesswork out for someone who develops other respiratory symptoms.
The influenza virus, like COVID-19, can be shed by infected persons before they have symptoms. Healthcare workers have a higher risk of being exposed to influenza during patient care. Healthcare workers who are unknowingly shedding flu virus are putting their patients, coworkers and families at risk of influenza. The flu vaccine can significantly minimize that risk.
Q: What would you say to those who argue that the flu vaccine isn’t as necessary this year because we’re already doing things like washing our hands and wearing a mask more often, so that will decrease our chance of getting the flu?
A: Some countries have reported a milder flu season this year but that is not a perfect predictor. Conditions keep changing, and what the general public is doing to combat COVID-19 keeps evolving as pandemic fatigue takes root. The safe thing to do is get vaccinated for flu, in addition to practicing the basics like handwashing, physical distancing and wearing masks indoors in public spaces.
Q: In addition to getting the flu shot, what else can people do this year to stay healthy during flu season?
Frequent hand hygiene is the best way to prevent infection. Staying home if you’re sick protects others from getting infected. Stay away from people who are sick to protect yourself. In addition, regular exercise, sleep and eating well is a good approach for everyone!
Q: What should people do if they develop flu-like symptoms?
It’s most important to get the care you need. If you’re really sick, feeling short of breath or chest pain or other severe symptoms, you should come to the Emergency Department. Make sure you let the healthcare team know right away that you have flu-like symptoms and they will take precautions, both for flu and for COVID-19.
If you’re feeling a bit tired or achy but you’re not too sick to seek medical attention, then talk to your own healthcare provider virtually, or call Telehealth to get instructions. In some cases, it will be most appropriate to isolate at home. Getting tested for COVID-19 at an assessment centre will identify whether you have COVID-19. Generally speaking, keep hydrated, get plenty of rest and stay away from others. If you have a underlying medical conditions that could make your flu illness more severe, ask your healthcare provider about the appropriateness of anti-viral therapy.
Q: Is there anything else people should know about the importance of getting their flu vaccine during the pandemic?
The flu vaccine is safe – it has been used year after year with very few side effects aside from a sore arm.
Some people question why they should get the flu vaccine when it’s only between 50 and 70 per cent effective, but I would say that not getting the flu shot is zero per cent effective. Getting vaccinated increases your chance of not even getting the flu at all, or making it less severe in most cases if you do get it.
Check out these resources for more information about the flu vaccine: