As the cold weather blows in and the seasons change, in comes another season of influenza, the respiratory viral infection which can be extremely dangerous if not controlled.
The virus can vary year by year, as a new strain evolves with the coming of winter. The other variable in how prolific the virus can be is how many people are immunized, and what other precautions people take to prevent the spread.
Dr. David Torr is the area department lead for public health and preventative medicine for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“We started [vaccinations] around October 10 here, in some places a little earlier," he said. "Flu vaccines are available for folks, and we are very much encouraging it. Something we clarify is that the vaccine does not prevent you from getting the flu, but it makes the flu much milder, and it prevents you from complications and hospitalization, so it is well worth taking.”
Those who have predisposing medical conditions or effects on their immune system are at the highest risk for hospitalization. This means that the elderly, the immunocompromised, and according to Dr. Torr, children. Doctors and virologists have been using the effects of the southern hemisphere’s winter influenza season to help predict what Saskatchewan's might look like.
“We certainly have started seeing cases of influenza in the province; it is here and it is flu season, but in the southern hemisphere, it was quite intense,” explained Dr. Torr. “It was quite a strong influenza season, so we're hoping if we get more people vaccinated, we don't have as much or as heavy of a flu season as they did.”
Influenza is a virus that is commonly transmitted through particulate matter which is too small to see. Commonly transmitted through being in close contact with those who are sick, influenza can linger in the air, on objects and surfaces, and can find its way into one’s respiratory passages.
“This season a lot of young children were affected as well, so it's really important for children to get their immunization because they are still developing their immune system,” said Dr. Torr. “People don't like to hear this, but at the same time as flu is on the rise, we are also seeing a very significant rise in COVID, and it's important for people to know that we have a different variant of COVID now. It's not the old variant, so we're not even using the old vaccines anymore. We have a new vaccine that works against the new variants.”
He advises that people practice good hygiene by washing their hands often, and only coughing and sneezing when covered. People should stay at home when they believe they are sick and encourage others to stay safe.
“It's really important and people really need to take heed,” expressed Dr. Torr. “Aside from getting your vaccines, and taking all those precautions, two very important things. Stay warm because when you are exposed to cold, it makes it much easier for the virus to get into your system, and stay hydrated, because again, when your mucous membranes are dry, it is much easier for the virus to get into your system, so stay warm and stay hydrated.”
Find out where you can get your flu shots in the region here.