Reduce your risk and get your flu shot — All you need is your provincial health card & 15 minutes of your time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the flu?
Each year in late fall and through the winter, flu strikes. Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a common, highly-contagious respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat and lungs, and makes you feel quite ill. Symptoms usually last about a week to 10 days. The flu is not like a common cold. It is a serious infection especially in infants, seniors and in people who have other medical conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer immune suppression, HIV or kidney disease.
The flu may also lead to complications, such as pneumonia, and may worsen certain other conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure or diabetes.
What is the difference between a flu and a cold?
The main differences are shown in the table below.
||Unusual, high fever (102 F / 39C – 104F / 40C), sudden onset, lasts 3-4 days
||Unusual, can be severe
|General aches & pains
||Unusual, often severe
|Fatigue and weakness
||Usual, severe, may last 2-3 weeks or more
||Usual, early onset, can be severe
|Runny, stuffy nose
|Chest discomfort, coughing
||Sometimes, mild to moderate
||Usual, can become severe
||Can lead to sinus congestion or earache
||Can lead to pneumonia & respiratory failure, worsen a current chronic condition, be life-threatening
||Annual vaccination and frequent hand-washing
How does the flu spread?
The flu spreads through droplets that are spread by people infected with the flu. These droplets are spread through coughing, sneezing or even talking. Sneezes can send germs flying as far as six feet. The flu is also spread by direct contact with objects and surfaces that have come in contact with flu germs, e.g., toys, eating utensils, drinking glasses, and most importantly, unwashed hands. Flu germs can live on surfaces for 2-8 days. The flu spreads very quickly from person to person because during the months when flu is circulating in the community, people tend to spend more time indoors, in closer proximity to other people.
Remember that people may be contagious BEFORE they know they have the flu and AFTER their symptoms have gone. People may be contagious for a few days before symptoms begin and for 5-7 days after becoming sick.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control both advise that the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine in fall. Since the virus causing the flu changes from year to year, the flu vaccine you received last year may not protect you this year. If the vaccine and the flu strain are a good match, the vaccine can prevent the flu in about 70%-90% of healthy children and adults.
When does the flu season start? How prevalent is the flu?
In Canada, the flu season usually runs from November to April. This is why it is important to get your flu shot between October and December, before the number of cases of flu increases in Canada.
The number of cases of the flu varies from year to year. It will depend on:
• How actively infectious the strains of flu are in that year
• How closely the flu vaccine matches the flu strain
• How careful people are to avoid getting the flu
Approximately 3-7.5 million Canadians will get the flu in any given year.
What are the health consequences of the flu?
Most people will recover fully in about a week or 10 days, but some may develop serious complications. Approximately 12,200 Canadians are hospitalized because of the flu and its complications each flu season; about 3,500 Canadians will die from pneumonia related to the flu and other serious complications of the flu. The following groups of people may be at greater risk of developing complications from the flu, if they do get sick:
• Children younger than five years old (especially those younger than two years old)
• Women who are pregnant
• Aboriginal people
• People with chronic conditions such as:
◦ Heart disease
◦ Liver disease
◦ Kidney disease
◦ Blood disorders
◦ Severe obesity
◦ Asthma and chronic lung disease
◦ Immunosuppression (people taking cancer drugs or people with HIV/AIDS)
◦ Neurological disorders
How can you prevent the flu?
Your best defense against the flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. There are a number of ways to prevent the flu, including getting the flu shot, frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching your face with your hands, sanitizing household surfaces and children’s toys, and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
Who should get a flu vaccination?
Every Canadian over the age of six months should get an annual flu vaccination. Even young, healthy people can get the flu and become seriously ill. The flu vaccination is the best way to help prevent catching or spreading the flu. Even if you had a flu vaccination last year, you need to get a flu vaccination again this year. The flu vaccine is especially important for:
• Children aged 6-23 months
• Adults and children with chronic heart and lung disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, HIV or kidney disease
• People living in a nursing home
• People aged 65 and over
• Children and adolescents on long-term aspirin (ASA) therapy
• Healthy pregnant women
• Health care workers; caregivers
Who should NOT get a flu vaccine?
People who should not get the flu vaccine include:
• Children younger than six months
• People who have had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. People with severe allergic reaction to eggs are able to receive the flu vaccine, but there may be some restrictions (talk to your Pharmacist for more information).
• Those dealing with an acute illness, an infection or a fever. You should postpone the flu shot until you are in better health.
What influenza viruses does this season’s vaccine protect against?
Influenza vaccines are designed to protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming influenza season. There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on vaccine) that research suggests will be most common. For 2019-2020, trivalent (three-component) vaccines are recommended to contain:
- A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
- A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2)-like virus;
- B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus;
Quadrivalent (four-component) vaccines, which protect against a second lineage of B viruses, are recommended to contain:
- the three recommended viruses above, plus B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus
What are my vaccine choices this year?
We expect to have the following vaccines available for immunizations:
- Trivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccines (TIIV ): Agriflu® (DIN: 66124873), Fluviral® (DIN: 66124765)
- Quadrivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccines (QIIV ): Fluzone® Quadrivalent (DIN: 66128073), Flulaval® Tetra (DIN: 66128005)
- Trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (TIV): Agriflu® (DIN: 02346850), Fluad® (DIN: 02362384), Fluzone® (DIN: 02420643), Influvac® (DIN: 02484854)
- Quadrivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (QIIV ): Flulaval® Tetra (DIN: 240783), Fluzone® Quadrivalent (DIN: 2420643), Fluzone HD® (DIN: 02445646)
Fluzone High-Dose is an inactivated influenza vaccine that is approved for adults 65 years of age and older. This vaccine is not provided for free in B.C. but is available for purchase. The public vaccines will be available at no charge for eligible patients.
Who is eligible for a free influenza vaccine?
In BC, the influenza vaccine is provided free to people who are at high risk of serious illness from influenza (such as young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with certain medical conditions) and those able to transmit or spread influenza to those at high risk. For a list of people eligible for the free inactivated influenza vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Inactivated Influenza (Flu) Vaccine
Anyone not eligible for a free influenza vaccine can receive it privately.
What should I do after my flu shot?
• Remain within the building for at least 15 minutes. The pharmacist needs to watch you to see how you react to the flu shot. It is most likely that you will be fine, but a very small number of people can have a reaction that the pharmacist will need to treat with a drug immediately.
• If you feel faint or short of breath, or experience chest tightness, inform the pharmacist.
• In extremely rare instances, an allergic reaction may occur. The pharmacist is prepared to handle this.
What are some possible side effects following the flu shot?
• Sore Arm
• Redness at the needle site
Exercising the arm or applying a cold pack later in the day will minimize the discomfort; if necessary take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease the pain.
The rare side effects following the flu shot are:
• Muscle soreness
Symptoms may start 6-12 hours after the flu shot. If any of these symptoms do not go away in 1-2 days or get worse see your doctor.
Extremely rare side effects following the flu shot
• Shortness of breath
• Tightness in chest
• Feeling of faintness or weakness
• Swelling of lips
If any of these symptoms occur, you could be having a severe reaction to the vaccine. This is a medical emergency! Call for HELP! Go to the nearest emergency clinic. Report any reactions to your doctor.
Can the flu vaccine give you the flu?
No. In order to offer you the most effective protection, the vaccine must contain part of the virus itself – the virus is dead and cannot give you the flu.
In addition to the flu shot what are other important ways to prevent the flu?
There are other important ways to help prevent catching or spreading the flu. These include:
• Maintain a healthy and active lifestyle
• Wash your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds, using warm water and soap
• When soap and water are not available, use an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer
• Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough and throw away used tissues and wash your hands immediately
• If a tissue is not available, sneeze or cough into your elbow or upper arm to avoid spreading germs to your hands
• Clean household surfaces and children’s toys often
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you think you may have come in contact with flu germs
• Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils
• Give each family member his/her own towel
• Try to avoid crowds during the flu season
• If you have the flu, stay at home
Who is most at risk if they catch the flu?
Certain people may be more at risk to develop complications and become more ill from the flu. The flu vaccination is especially important to help protect these people:
• Children aged 6-23 months – these children may be more likely to develop complications from the flu and are more likely to be hospitalized because of them
• Adults and children with chronic diseases that require them to have regular medical attention or hospital care, e.g., chronic heart and lung disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, weakened immune systems, cystic fibrosis, HIV or kidney disease
• Children and adolescents on long-term aspirin (ASA) therapy – people with these conditions are more likely to develop complications if they get the flu
• People aged 65 and over – seniors have the highest rate of hospitalization and death from the flu. The most common complications in seniors include bacterial infection and pneumonia. NOTE: the flu vaccine may be less effective in this population, so it is very important that all family members, health care providers, and caregivers have a flu shot to better protect seniors.
• Healthy pregnant women – pregnant women are not more likely to get the flu, but they are more likely to develop complications if they do get the flu because during pregnancy the immune system that helps fight off disease is less effective
Can women who are pregnant or breastfeeding get the flu shot?
Influenza vaccine is considered safe and may be beneficial for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy and for breastfeeding mothers. Speak to your health care professional for further information.
I’m a healthy adult. Why should I have an annual flu vaccination?
The flu is a serious illness and can lead to serious complications, hospitalization and even death. Every flu season is different and the flu affects everyone differently as well. Many people think that only people with health problems need an annual flu vaccination. This is NOT true. Healthy people can also get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. The flu can leave you ill for up to seven days or more. The good news is that flu vaccination effectiveness is greatest among healthy adults and older children. Everyone six months of age and older should have an annual flu vaccination.
Get your flu vaccination early in the flu season so that you are already protected when the flu starts circulating in your community. It takes about two weeks for your body to become protected from the flu vaccination. Once you have been vaccinated, you will have the benefits of protection for as long as the flu is circulating. An annual vaccination is needed because protection from the vaccination will decline over the year. In addition, the circulating flu strain changes every year and every year the flu vaccine is formulated to match the current strain to help protect against the flu more effectively. So for the best protection, an annual vaccination is recommended.