Healthy Living in the North

What’s the real story on influenza (flu)?

Spirit caribou mascot getting flu shot.

Protect yourself and your loved ones – get your flu shot! Flu shots are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

A version of this article was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


In my experience as a nurse, I have heard many questions about the flu and the flu vaccine. With flu season upon us, I wanted to look at some of the common myths I hear every year about influenza (“the flu”) and the vaccine in hopes to provide some accurate information for you to learn and share this season!

There is often a misunderstanding about the flu, with many believing that influenza is the stomach flu or the common cold. In fact, the flu is generally much worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, headache, aches and pains, extreme fatigue, and cough are more common and more intense with the flu than they are with the common cold.

The common cold also generally does not result in serious health problems. Influenza, on the other hand, can lead to bacterial infections such as ear infection, a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Certain groups of people – such as seniors 65 and older, very young children, and people who have lung or heart disease, certain chronic health conditions, or weakened immune systems – are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Influenza is highly contagious and infects millions of Canadians every year. While most recover in about a week, thousands of Canadians, most of them young children and seniors, will die due to flu-related complications like pneumonia each year.

“I got the flu from my flu shot” is probably the most common myth I hear. In fact, the flu shot cannot give you influenza because the vaccine contains killed viruses that cannot cause infection. The vaccine that is given as a nasal spray does contain live virus but these viruses are attenuated (weakened) and cannot cause flu illness.

Another common question is why we need to get the flu vaccine every year. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, the flu vaccine is reviewed and updated each year to protect you.

How can I prevent influenza?

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Promptly dispose of used tissues in the waste basket or garbage
  • Cough and sneeze into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Stay home when you are ill
  • Get an influenza vaccine (are you eligible for a free vaccine?). Vaccines are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

Benefits of the flu vaccine

  • Prevents you from getting sick with the flu.
  • Helps protect people around you who are more vulnerable to a serious flu illness.
  • Helps to make your illness milder if you do get sick.

More information

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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Achoo! Flu season is near

Hands under running water

Proper hand washing is an important step that you can take to prevent the spread of the flu virus! Do you know how to properly wash your hands?

The cold weather is fast approaching and we are again reminded that influenza (the flu) season is near. For many Canadians, catching the flu can be a miserable experience. Symptoms include fever, body aches, headache, dry cough, and fatigue. For some, the flu can lead to bacterial infection such as ear infection, sinus infection, or pneumonia. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.

For the best protection against influenza, I recommend getting your flu shot.

There are also some additional ways you can prevent the spread of flu. At one time or another, all of us have endured the experience of someone sharing their germs. It isn’t a pleasant experience! So be kind to your friends and neighbours; practice coughing and sneezing etiquette! Influenza is easily spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or having face-to-face contact. It is also spread through touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus.

This video by ImmunizeBC shows how influenza spreads:

You can reduce the risk of getting and spreading the flu virus by:

  • Washing your hands regularly (especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose)
  • Coughing and sneezing into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Putting your used tissue in the waste basket
  • Staying home when you are ill
  • Getting an influenza vaccine. Visit ImmunizeBC to find a clinic near you!

To properly wash your hands, follow these steps:

  1. Remove rings or other jewelry on the hands and wrists.
  2. Wet your hands with warm water.
  3. Wash all parts of your hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds, rubbing hands together to create lather. To help children learn the timing to wash their hands, sing the ABC song.
  4. Rinse hands well under warm running water.
  5. Dry hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  6. Use the towel to turn off the tap and open the door when you leave if you are in a public restroom.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. After applying the gel or foam, rub your hands together until they are dry. This is an easy way to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly dirty.

More information

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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Tackling a flu myth

Woman getting a flu shot.

As a healthy adult, you may not be at a high risk of a serious illness yourself, but those around you may be more vulnerable. Protect those you care about by getting your flu shot this influenza season!

As a public health nurse, I often hear people say, “I’m healthy so I don’t need to have the flu shot.” I hope to provide some information to help debunk this common misconception.

First, while you may not be at a high risk of a serious illness yourself, those around you may be more vulnerable. Even mild flu symptoms mean that you could be carrying the virus and passing it on to your family, friends, co-workers, and many others you come into contact with every day.

By getting immunized, you will develop the antibodies to break down the flu virus in your system. This lowers your risk of catching the virus, reduces the severity of symptoms, and avoids spreading the infection to those who are most vulnerable.

It’s also important to know that most healthy adults may be able to infect people before symptoms develop. This means you may be able to pass on the flu virus before you even know you are sick. Some people can also be infected with the flu and have no symptoms but still spread it to others.

Why get immunized? The flu can be serious for many groups of people including young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Even healthy adults can get very sick from the flu and be at risk for serious complications, hospitalization or death.

Protect those you care about by getting your flu shot this influenza season.

Did you know?

In B.C., in addition to vulnerable groups like young children and seniors, the influenza vaccine is also provided free to:

  • Household contacts of children and adults with chronic health conditions
  • Household contacts and caregivers of infants and children aged 0-59 months
  • Household contacts of pregnant women
  • Visitors to health care facilities and other patient care locations

For more information on who is eligible for free influenza vaccine, visit Northern Health’s influenza page. Anyone not eligible for a free influenza vaccine can purchase it at some pharmacies and travel clinics.

To find a flu clinic near you, visit ImmunizeBC.

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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HPV vaccine = Cancer prevention

Did you know that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well-established cause of cancer and is present in nearly all cervical cancers?

You may have heard a lot of buzz about the HPV vaccine, but it can be hard to get all the facts when life is busy! So here’s what you need to know!

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately three out of four sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus.

What is the HPV vaccine?

There are two vaccines approved for use in Canada, Cervarix® and Gardasil®, that protect against cervical cancer, anal cancer, and various other cancers. The Gardasil® vaccine also protects against genital warts.

Who should be immunized?

Girls in Grade 6 are provided the Gardasil® vaccine for free in B.C. If you missed your HPV vaccine, or if your daughter missed it in school, you may still be eligible for free vaccine. Girls and young women born in 1994 or later who missed getting the vaccine in school can contact their health care provider to get immunized for free.

New for B.C. is that some boys and men are eligible for free vaccine, too! The HPV vaccine is provided free of charge to males aged 9-26 who are questioning their sexual orientation, have sex with men, are street involved, or are infected with HIV. For full eligibility criteria, visit the HPV page at HealthLinkBC.

The vaccine is also recommended for adult women up to 45 years old, boys and men 9-26 who do not meet the specified criteria above, and men 27 and older who have sex with men. For these three groups, HPV vaccine can be purchased at most pharmacies.

Vaccine bottle and packaging

The Gardasil(r) vaccine is one of two HPV vaccines approved for use in Canada. It protects against cervical cancer, various other cancers, and genital warts.

HPV vaccine facts:

  • Vaccination provides the best protection when given to girls aged 9-13.
  • The vaccine works best if received before a person becomes sexually active.
  • Those who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine.
  • The HPV vaccine is safe – over 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide.
  • You can’t get HPV from the vaccine.
  • Vaccination is up to 99 per cent effective at preventing the types of HPV that are responsible for most genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

Visit ImmunizeBC for more information about HPV.

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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Is your daughter in Grade 6 this year? Do you have questions about the HPV vaccine?

Dog with a sign that says "back to school".

It’s back-to-school season across the province! With all of the papers your kids are bringing home, Kathryn urges you to keep your eyes open for the Immunization Consent Form and answers your questions about the HPV vaccine and how it can protect your kids from cancer.

As we settle back into school routines and the leaves slowly start to yellow and fall, you may feel overwhelmed with the handfuls of papers that your child is bringing back from school. One paper that I hope you watch out for is the Grade 6 Immunization Consent Form.

You may have heard a lot about one of the vaccines offered to female students in Grade 6: the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. As a public health nurse, I have had many conversations with parents and girls about the HPV vaccine. I am frequently impressed with the amount of reading and research that parents do on their own to make the best choices for their children. Often, our main resource for information is social media like Facebook where it can be a challenge to find information that is evidence-based and reliable.

My goal in writing this blog is to provide you with some helpful information on the HPV vaccine and some of the valuable sites for more information that are at your fingertips! I thought about some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from parents and young women about the HPV vaccine and thought that some of these may be on your mind, too, as you consider the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child.

What is the HPV vaccine anyways?

Gardasil® (HPV4) is the HPV vaccine given to Grade 6 girls in B.C. It protects against 4 different types of HPV infection.

It provides protection against two types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and various other cancers such as cancers of the mouth & throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. It also protects against infection from two more types of HPV that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Any kind of sexual activity involving oral or genital contact can spread HPV. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected.

Why should I vaccinate my Grade 6 daughter?

Many parents have asked me why their child should have the vaccine if their daughters are not currently sexually active. Research has shown that vaccination provides the best levels of protection in girls aged 9 to 13. In fact, preteens have a better immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine works best when it is given before sexual activity begins, because the HPV vaccines were developed to prevent HPV, not to treat it.

Is the vaccine safe?

I often receive questions about the HPV vaccine and its safety. Studies show that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Vaccines in Canada are only licenced for use if they meet strict standards for safety and effectiveness.

The most common side effects from the vaccine include redness, swelling, and soreness in the arm where the vaccine was given as well as headache and fever. You cannot become infected with HPV from the vaccine and the vaccines do not contain any antibiotics or preservatives, such as mercury or thimerosal.

What if my daughter missed her Grade 6 vaccine?

Worried your daughter missed her Grade 6 HPV vaccine? Girls born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV4 vaccine can contact their health care provider to get immunized at no cost.

What else do I need to know about HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Three out of four sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Most don’t show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus onto others without even knowing it.
  • Every year in B.C., 175 women will get cervical cancer.

What about my son and other boys and men?

You may have heard of new eligibility for HPV vaccine for boys and men aged 9-26 in B.C. While there is new eligibility for free vaccine for certain boys and men, there will be no changes to the school vaccine programs. If you’d like more information about new eligibility criteria and accessing the free vaccine for boys and men, visit HealthLinkBC.

Can you suggest any other helpful resources about HPV?

  • For more information on the HPV vaccine, visit HPV Info or ImmunizeBC.
  • Check out some informative videos about the HPV vaccine at ImmunizeBC. I like the Dr. Mike Evans videos and find the personal stories of experiences with cervical cancer very powerful to watch.
  • If you have more questions or would like more information about the HPV vaccine, speak to your doctor or contact your primary care provider.
Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

From northern B.C., Kathryn worked as a public health nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat before filling in as the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse. Kathryn has a passion for healthy community work and health promotion. She loves living in the north and experiencing all it has to offer including going for a jog amongst our beautiful scenery. This Christmas, she is expecting a new addition to her family and excited for all the new experiences and joy that will bring.

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