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Flu season is here

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The Jewish General Hospital provides tips on how to stay healthy this holiday season

Fever, aches and pains, stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing and sneezing… these symptoms are all too familiar, especially at this time of year. The Jewish General Hospital (JGH) reminds the public that the best way to avoid contracting a viral infection is to vaccinate children and vulnerable family members before the flu season kicks into high gear, which happens to be right around the holidays.

“The flu is a serious illness, more so than people tend to realize,” says Dr. Yves Longtin, Chair of the JGH Infection Prevention and Control Committee. “This is why it is so important for members of the public to take the necessary precautions—most crucially, getting a flu shot—in order to protect themselves and those around them.”

Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness that spreads rapidly from person to person. Every year, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die from the flu or related complications, and even more become seriously ill and require hospitalization. For most, the flu usually brings on considerable discomfort. However for some, such as the elderly, children under six years of age, and people with weakened immune systems, the flu can cause severe illness, and even death.

“It is extremely important that these high-risk individuals and those in close contact with them—healthcare workers, household contacts and caregivers—take every precaution to protect themselves from the flu,” explains Dr. Longtin. “In addition to getting your flu shot, to help reduce the risk of catching and spreading the flu, wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hand, and stay home when you are sick.”

Flu shots are administered at your local CLSC or doctor’s office free of charge and without a prescription for children and adults who are at increased risk of more severe infections and complications. This includes infants six to 23 months of age, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and individuals with chronic medical conditions.

Dr. Longtin adds that even individuals who were inoculated last year should opt for the flu shot  again this year, because the body’s immunity may have decreased over time. Also, the flu virus changes slightly every year and new strains of the virus begin to circulate in the community, so the vaccine is reformulated to ensure optimal protection.

Anyone who feels ill is encouraged to call Info-Santé at 8-1-1 (a 24-hour-a-day, year round service) to have a nurse evaluate the gravity of their symptoms. Alternately, members of the public can contact their family physician, local CLSC or local walk-in clinic.

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