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It’s not too late to schedule a flu shot, health unit says

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today


While hospitals and clinics are seeing an increasing number of patients with flu-like symptoms and the Ontario Medical Officer of Health is urging people to get flu shots, doing so at this time of year is no easy task.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit reports that fewer people attended its flu clinics last fall than attended the fall 2011 clinic (3,766 compared to 4,025) and there are not enough requests for more to be added at this time, despite current conditions.

The local health unit will, however, schedule flu shots along with others given at their monthly immunization clinics held at the tri-county head office in Port Hope, says director of communicable disease control Linda McCarey.

But people are asked, first, to ensure that their own health-care provider or pharmacy isn't able to give them the shot, then to call 905-885-9100 to schedule the shot.

Vaccine is still being provided to family doctors, clinics, etc., McCarey said.

Checks with several pharmacies in Port Hope and Cobourg, however, revealed some have held their own clinics but they are now over, and others did not take part at all in the flu immunization program which the province expanded to pharmacies in 2012.

At least two locations were found to be providing influenza immunization: Pharmacy 101 on Division Street in Cobourg (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday, or by chance) and the Port Hope Community Health Centre (PHCHC) on Ontario Street in Port Hope.

"We are currently doing our own patients," PHCHC clinical manager Lydia Rybenko said.

"But we don't turn people away."

Like the health unit, the PHCHC advises people to call in advance (905-885-2626).

The Centre’s rate of immunization, unlike at the health unit's clinics, is up slightly this year, Rybenko added.

Flu shots prevent influenza in some cases and reduce the severity in others, health officials report.

According to the Statement on seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2012-2013, reported in Canada Communicable Disease, Vol. 38 dated last August, the effectiveness varies due to patient age and other factors.

"In healthy children, efficacy of influenza vaccine against laboratory confirmed influenza ranged from 59% to 82%. For healthy adults, efficacy against laboratory confirmed influenza was 80% when the vaccine strain matched the circulating strains and circulation was high. In the elderly, vaccine effectiveness is about half that in healthy adults and varies depending on the outcome and the study population. Systematic reviews have also demonstrated that influenza vaccine decreases the incidence of pneumonia, hospital admissions, and deaths in the elderly."

By the close of 2012 most of the confirmed influenza cases and outbreaks were due to influenza A (H3N2) virus which is one of three strains in the current influenza shots provided free to everyone over the age of six months.

There has always been a steady group of people who, for varying reasons, choose not to get the annual flu shots and even some health care professionals do not, but if there is an outbreak where they work (such as in hospitals and nursing homes) many are unable to return to work until the outbreak is over or they are protected by the influenza vaccine.

Northumberland Hills Hospital (NHH) is currently experiencing longer-than-usual wait times because of high patient volume, most of which is due to flu.

NHH "is currently operating at full capacity in both the Emergency Department (ED) and the inpatient units," according to a recent media release.

That was still the situation as of early this week, says NHH spokesperson Jennifer Gillard.

"The predominant ailments that patients are presenting relate to respiratory illnesses and influenza-like symptoms, likely indicating the commencement of the flu season," it continues.

"NHH encourages members of the public to follow proper hand hygiene to help reduce the spread of influenza in the community, and if ill themselves with the cold or flu, not to visit patients in the hospital."

NHH is asking people who have non-urgent conditions to go to their family doctor or check out other health ministry options available by going to the web address .

You can also contact Telehealth Ontario at: 1-866-797-0000 or (TTY): 1-866-797-0007.


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