Healthy Living in the North

Did you know there is a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer?

You’ve probably heard about the vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV) but do you know much about it or why it is important for our health?

In the spirit of National Immunization Awareness Week, I would like to highlight this particular topic that continues to get media attention and is sometimes a point of concern for parents considering vaccinations for their school-aged children. I’ve also seen many young women in sexual health and immunization clinics who have had questions and misunderstandings about this immunization. In my experience, people are often ready to dismiss a vaccine when they’re uncertain of its safety or efficacy or if they’re uncertain of whether they’re even really at risk for the illness that the vaccine is preventing. This hesitation is understandable, right? We want to make sure that we are choosing health interventions that are necessary and safe for ourselves and our children. Well, hopefully I can help shed some light on this sometimes controversial topic!

The HPV vaccine protects against the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers. Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in women. Two types of HPV vaccines are approved for use in Canada: Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil® (HPV4). Both vaccines protect against infection from HPV types 16 and 18 that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and other cancers such as cancers of the mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. The HPV4 vaccine also protects against infection from HPV types 6 and 11 that cause about 90% of genital warts cases. The vaccines are approved by Health Canada and are provincially-funded (i.e., free) for girls and women aged 9-26. HPV4 vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free, for the following people:

  • Adult women up to 45 years of age
  • Boys and men 9-26 years of age
  • Men 27 years of age and older who have sex with men

Those not eligible for free HPV vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies and travel clinics.

Facts on cervical cancer in B.C.If you’re a parent with daughters or a young woman considering this vaccine, here are a few facts:

  • HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. 3 out of 4 sexually active Canadians have been infected at some point in their lives.
  • HPV infection is spread even with the use of condoms as it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
  • HPV infection rates peak at adolescence and can go undetected for quite some time as HPV usually causes little to no symptoms. For the greatest benefit, it is recommended to receive the HPV vaccine prior to the onset of sexual activity.
  • Studies have shown that antibody levels in those who received the HPV vaccine were greater in individuals 9-15 years of age compared to those 16 years and older. The BC Centre for Disease Control has a great primer on antibodies and the role they play.
  • Studies have shown that HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Common reactions are similar to other injectable vaccines and may include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site, muscle or joint ache, fatigue, or headache.

This is just some of the information available on HPV vaccination. If you wish to find out more, please speak to your doctor or contact your local public health nurse. You can also visit Northern Health, ImmunizeBC, HealthLinkBC, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Still have questions? Check out the video below that provides more information on HPV and the HPV vaccine. ImmunizeBC has a great bank of HPV videos, too!

Additional immunization and HPV resources:

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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Timing is everything for routine immunizations

Child on mother's lap being given a vaccine by a nurse.

To ensure that your child has the best protection, don’t forget about boosters and 18-month vaccines. Vaccines are most effective if given at the right time as your child grows.

As a working mom expecting her third baby and running around after two busy school-aged children, I know a thing or two about scheduling! Balancing kids’ activities with work, family obligations, and household duties as well as trips to the dentist, optometrist and doctor involves a certain degree of time management and juggling skills. When you stick to a schedule, things tend to run more smoothly … usually!

That being said, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and derailed when the to-do list becomes longer than the hours in a day. Try as we might to keep organized, appointments are missed and sometimes you find yourself at the soccer field when you should be at the swimming pool!

Though I have been a public health nurse for seven years and place a priority on health-related visits including immunization appointments, I, too, am guilty of slipping up. My kids, like many, received their infant immunizations on time during their first 12 months. As life gets busier, 12-month-olds become more rambunctious, and some of the nerves of first-year parenting start to calm, it becomes especially important – albeit a bit more challenging – to remember boosters. You want to make sure those infant immunizations stay as effective as possible in protecting your child! When your child is 18 months old, it is important to keep on schedule with the rest of their immunization boosters in order to give them the best protection against vaccine preventable-illnesses.

Why is it important to keep vaccines on schedule anyway? The routine immunization program is designed to provide your child with the best protection at the most effective and safest ages and intervals. Completing all infant and childhood vaccines on schedule builds immunity that is lasting.

As you may have noticed at your child’s followup immunization appointments, subsequent vaccine doses are given. Some vaccines need to be given more than once to build your child’s immune system. Following the routine schedule will ensure the right spacing is maintained. Is it time to boost your toddler’s immunity?

At 18 months, make sure to stay on schedule with:

  • DTaP-IPV-Hib (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b)
  • Influenza (seasonal)
  • Hepatitis A (if eligible)

Contact your local health unit to find out if your child’s immunizations are up to date. You can also visit northernhealth.ca for more information on vaccine-preventable illnesses and immunizations.

To help keep track of your family’s immunization records, download the free ImmunizeCA app for Apple, Android, and Blackberry products.

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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National Immunization Awareness Week

Group of nurses wearing I Boost Immunity T-shirts.

Northern Health staff in Fort St. John boost immunity – how about you? During National Immunization Awareness Week, think about how you might boost immunity!

In Canada, National Immunization Awareness Week (NIAW) is held annually in late April. NIAW is an opportunity to focus the attention of Canadians on the importance of vaccinations for all ages and to prompt citizens to ensure that immunizations are up-to-date for themselves and their loved ones.

Evidence clearly indicates that immunizations are the safest and most effective way to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases. Thanks to immunization programs across Canada, vaccine-preventable diseases now cause less than 5% of all deaths across the country. Over 100 years ago, these diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. One does not have to look far into our history to uncover the devastation that vaccine-preventable diseases posed to the health and lives of Canadians.

Although we have come a long way in fighting infectious diseases, they continue to pose a significant threat to our health. You may recall recent outbreaks such as measles in southern Ontario and Quebec as well as pertussis in northwest B.C. So far, 140 cases of measles have been reported in 2015 in southern Ontario and Quebec and over 275 cases of pertussis have been reported in northern B.C. since January 2014.

Immunization protects individuals and communities by preventing the spread of disease. Those who are not vaccinated against common infectious diseases such as measles, chicken pox, influenza, pertussis, and human papillomavirus not only put their own health at risk, they also put the health of their family, friends and community at risk. As more people are immunized, the disease risk for everyone is reduced.

In the spirit of NIAW, British Columbians can join the I Boost Immunity campaign to help raise awareness about the value of immunization. I Boost Immunity is an advocacy platform based on the experiences of real families and individuals around B.C. who support vaccination. This initiative uses the power of social media to reach large audiences. There are many articles and stories readily available on this site which will help you to become an active supporter for immunization in your community. The more you participate, the more points you earn to cash in for prizes. Visit iboostimmunity.ca to sign up.

Immunization is the single most cost-effective health investment that has saved more lives in Canada in the past 50 years than any other health intervention. Talk to your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or local public health unit about staying up-to-date with immunizations.

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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Hand washing during flu season and beyond!

Soapy hands and a running water tap.

Germs are unavoidable but you can reduce their presence on your hands and reduce the chances of passing them on by following some basic hand cleaning steps!

You can’t avoid germs. They are always collecting on your hands – when you open doors, change diapers, play with toys, handle money, and carry out all sorts of daily tasks. While you can’t avoid germs, you can reduce their presence on your hands, and the chance of passing them on to others, by cleaning your hands often. Good hand hygiene is important to reduce the spread of germs that can cause influenza and other illnesses such as colds, diarrhea, or vomiting. Getting into the habit of cleaning your hands often is important during flu season and beyond!

Clean your hands before:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Feeding your baby or child
  • Giving a child medication

Clean your hands after:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Changing a diaper
  • Using the toilet
  • Sneezing, wiping, or blowing your nose (or your child’s nose)
  • Playing with pets or animals
  • Taking care of a child or sick family member
  • Playing outdoors, in group settings, or with toys

How to clean your hands with soap and water:

  1. Remove any jewelry on the hands and wrists. Wet your hands under running water.
  2. Scrub your hands well with soap for at least 40-60 seconds. Pay close attention to the areas between your fingers, your fingernails, and both the front and back of your hands. To get the timing down, teach children to sing the ABC song while they wash.
  3. Rinse your hands under running water.
  4. Dry your hands with a clean towel.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be used if no soap and water is available, but be sure to wash your hands with soap and water if they are visibly dirty.

How to clean your hands with alcohol rubs:

  1. Remove any jewelry on the hands and wrists.
  2. Apply a palmful of product in a cupped hand and rub your palms together. Rub all areas of your hands well (including between your fingers, fingernails, and both the front and back of your hands) for at least 20-30 seconds.
  3. Let your hands dry.
Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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I Boost Immunity Update

A group of nine nurses wear  I Boost Immunity t-shirts.

Nurses in Fort St. John “spread the good stuff!”

Three weeks ago, Northern Health participated in the launch of Immunize BC’s I Boost Immunity (IBI) campaign. As part of the campaign, nurses and support staff were equipped with IBI magnets and enthusiastically sported their IBI T-shirts in hopes of prompting conversation with clients and community members about this new web platform and its initiatives.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the campaign, it’s an innovative way for British Columbians who support vaccination to share evidence-based information through popular social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the IBI web page. The more articles and stories you share, the more points you earn, which can be traded in for cool IBI swag. The ultimate goal of this campaign is to give a voice to the silent majority of those who support immunizations with the hopes of increasing vaccine rates in the province.

Two nurses wearing I Boost Immunity t-shirts pose with biceps flexed.

Boosters in Smithers flex their immune muscles!

Many Northern Health staff members can still be seen wearing their IBI t-shirts at flu clinics today! To find your local flu clinic, visit Immunize BC. Stop by to get your flu shot, learn more about the campaign, and become a booster today to “start spreading the good stuff!”

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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Flu vaccine Q&A

flu, immunization, vaccine, influenza

The flu shot is your best shot against the flu!

Seasonal influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is an infection caused by the influenza virus, which affects the nose, throat and lungs. Other viruses, such as the common cold, can also affect the upper respiratory tract, but, unlike influenza, often do not cause severe and life threatening complications like hospitalizations, pneumonia, bronchitis, and death. Some people are more at-risk for influenza complications, such as people with certain health conditions, young children, pregnant women, and people over the age of 65.

Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?

Healthy people can get the flu and spread it to others. Even if you do not get sick, you can still spread influenza to those who are more at-risk for complications from the flu virus.

Immunizations are safe, effective, and one of the best ways to help protect you from illness and reduce the spread of infectious diseases to others.

How do flu vaccines work?

The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after being immunized. These antibodies help your immune system to detect the flu virus and fight it off if you become exposed. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against viruses that research indicates will be the most common during flu season. Typically, flu vaccines protect against three different influenza strains and immunity against those strains lasts approximately six months. If you are exposed to a strain that is not contained in the vaccine, your illness will likely be less severe.

What are the side effects from the flu vaccine?

There are different types of influenza immunizations which cause slightly different side effects:

The flu shot:

  • soreness, redness, or swelling a the injection site
  • low-grade fever
  • aches

The nasal spray:

  • runny nose
  • wheezing
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle aches
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • cough

Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?

No. Flu vaccines either contain no flu virus, or viruses that have been inactivated or attenuated (weakened) which means the virus cannot replicate in your system and give you the flu. However, people commonly feel mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, aches, and chills for 24-48 hours after their immunization as their body is developing an immune response. These symptoms are not contagious, are short lived, and mild, especially when compared to symptoms of an actual influenza infection.

Flu vaccines cannot replicate in your system and give you the flu.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

You can contact your local physician, health unit, or pharmacy for more information on the flu and vaccinations. You can also access local clinic information on the B.C. flu clinic locator website. Other resources include HealthLink BC and the Northern Health page on influenza.

Flu season is here. Will you be protected?

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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What is the flu, anyway?

mother; child; vaccination

Immunizations are safe and effective and are one of the best ways to help protect you from illness and reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

As a public health nurse, I have had several years’ experience immunizing and educating the public about influenza and the vaccines used to protect the spread of this persistent virus. I find myself answering the same questions and dispelling the same myths year after year.

It is not uncommon to hear someone tell me how they received the flu vaccine before and it didn’t work. When asked to describe their illness, I hear all about their unfortunate bout with the “stomach flu.” Hours or days spent hugging the toilet and unable to eat a bite. It is unfortunate that the influenza virus is lumped into the same category as the “stomach flu;” better known as gastroenteritis, which is caused by other pesky organisms (though easy to see how this is a point of confusion!).

Influenza is also commonly mistaken for the common cold; similar in that it is also an upper respiratory infection, however, the common cold does not typically last as long as influenza or cause the same serious complications.

So what is seasonal influenza anyway?

Seasonal influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is an infection caused by the influenza virus which affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Other viruses, such as the common cold, can also affect the upper respiratory tract, but, unlike influenza, they often do not cause severe and life threatening complications (such as hospitalizations, pneumonia, bronchitis, and death). Some people are more at-risk for influenza complications, including those with certain health conditions, young children, pregnant women, and people over the age of 65.

Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?

Healthy people can get sick from the flu and spread it to others. Even if you do not get sick, you can still spread influenza to those who are more at-risk for complications from the flu virus. Immunizations are safe and effective and are one of the best ways to help protect you from illness and reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

You can contact your local physician, health unit, or pharmacy for more information on the flu and vaccinations. You can also access local clinic information on the BC flu clinic locator. Other places for more information include HealthLink BC and Northern Health’s influenza information.

Were you aware of the differences between seasonal influenza and the common cold?

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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