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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Keeping children safe and healthy with routine immunizations

I’m drawn to the topic of immunization for National Immunization Awareness Week, which this year is April 23-30. It’s a chance to highlight the importance of routine immunizations and focus on accurate and up-to-date information and resources. It’s also a good time to reflect on the fact that in the last 50 years, immunization has saved more lives than any other intervention.

Immunization is one of the best ways parents can ensure their children stay healthy and protected from certain vaccine-preventable diseases!

During the first two years of a child’s life, they are very vulnerable and can be susceptible to many vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases can have serious health consequences for many infants and young children. In some cases, they can be deadly.

National Immunization Awareness Week poster

“For the best protection, it’s recommended that parents follow the routine schedule and ensure all shots are given on time.”

In B.C., infants and young children aged 0-5 are given free vaccines that provide protection from the following diseases:

  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Polio
  • Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib)
  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Varicella
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • Rotavirus
  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis A (vaccine provided to Aboriginal children only)

The current immunization schedule for infants and children in B.C. has infants starting with their first set of immunizations at two months of age followed by immunizations at four months, six months, 12 months, 18 months, and kindergarten entry.

For the best protection, it’s recommended that parents follow the routine schedule and ensure all shots are given on time.

Here are six reasons from ImmunizeBC.ca why it’s best to follow the routine schedule:

  1. The routine schedule is based on the best science of today.
  2. The routine schedule is safe and works very well.
  3. You will ensure your child is protected as soon as they can be.
  4. You will reduce your child’s risk of anxiety and needle fear.
  5. The risk of side effects is the same whether vaccines are given together or separately.
  6. You will reduce the number of visits and time spent getting your child’s shots.

In B.C., parents can take their children to their local health unit for immunizations.

Have questions or want more information?

  • Call your local health unit and speak to a public health nurse.
  • Speak to your family doctor or primary health care provider.
  • Call HealthLinkBC (dial 8-1-1). They’re open 24 hours!
  • Visit ImmunizeBC.ca

About Patricia Strim

Photo and bio coming soon!

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Certified Dental Assistants: A passion for healthy smiles!

Two toothbrushes

Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours!

April is Oral Health Month!

You may not know that Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours! This Oral Health Month, I’d like to celebrate and acknowledge the work that our Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) provide. CDAs are educated, trained dental professionals who make important assessments about patient care every day. The five ladies who make up this team are often the first person that clients meet in their community – whether it’s at family health events, Strong Start, or our fluoride varnish clinics.

I had the privilege of interviewing each of the CDAs last month and discovered the deep passion each has for working with children and families. I asked that they share a few stories and reflections here with you.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider the support these ladies provide in our communities!

Pamela:

I am a Certified Dental Assistant working as a Community Dental Assistant for Northern Health. I’ve been working for six years and during that time, I have been in contact with multiple families. The families that made the biggest impression on me were the ones who had children with early childhood caries. Sometimes these children are in pain and you can really tell that their self-esteem is low. They also struggle to eat well.

After these children are treated and their pain is alleviated, the difference can make you cry! I like to compare it to a flower that is blooming – so beautiful and happy! There is nothing better than watching a child start to thrive again, eat, and be healthy and happy! This is what makes me love my job and makes me passionate about healthy children.

Wendy:

I appreciate the variety that my job as a dental assistant in public & population health offers. I love working with young children and their parents and especially enjoy working with immigrant families. Recently, our dental program was invited to the multicultural society in Prince George to meet with several new refugee families from Syria. A co-worker and I did basic teaching around oral health, screening and referral for obvious dental needs, and did fluoride applications for children under 6 years. The children and I got a great laugh as I attempted to pronounce their names. They had no problem with my name! All in all, it was a great privilege to meet these families and to be a small part of not only helping them on the road to achieve better dental health, but also to show compassion and friendship as they face many new challenges in adjusting to their new life in Canada.

Louise:

When I think of a success story in my time as a Certified Dental Assistant, I remember the first time I went out to see families in a remote community. I was screening children and doing fluoride varnish with the parents present. One mom had several children at the Health Unit. She brought her 18 month old last. We did a “knee-to-knee” dental exam and “lift-the-lip.” As we looked at this child’s teeth, I noticed the start of cavities. Not just white lines, but brown, stained upper anterior teeth with ditching in them. Further investigation revealed that the mom was breastfeeding ad lib, wasn’t brushing for the child, and that the family had cavities themselves.

I encouraged brushing at least 2-3 times a day with fluoride toothpaste and showed how to brush. I also discussed decay-causing acids from the frequency of sugary drinks, such as juice, pop, or even milk. Breast milk was the best option for her child so I encouraged continuing on, but really stressed the importance of brushing with fluoride toothpaste, having fluoride varnish done, and taking her child to the dentist. I said if we did these things, her child may not have to have work done in the hospital within the next year or two, and we could keep those cavities “at bay” until the child was able to sit in the dental chair to have the work done.

The next time I spoke with mom, she had taken him to the dentist and was brushing lots with fluoride toothpaste. The dentist had scooped out some decay and burnished the fluoride varnish into the cavitation. The fluoride varnish was done routinely (about every 2-3 months) and the teeth strengthened. We built a relationship of trust through these fluoride varnish appointments. Her child had some dental work done while sitting in the chair at 5 years of age. The upper anterior teeth weren’t involved; it was the back molars that had fillings done. There was no hospital work done and fewer cavities/fillings. Overall, we saw much better outcomes. We still have a trusting relationship when I see her and her family in the community. Now, her children are having children: the next generation. Hopefully there will be more great changes in their dental health and overall health!

Thank you card

Thank you card received by a Certified Dental Assistant.

Dianne:

This is a very special card to me. The inside note says, “You have been an amazing ‘Tooth Fairy’ for us!”

This was given to me by a very grateful young mother. This mom’s 2.5 year old was in urgent need of dental treatment. When they came to me, he had already been on antibiotics and was not sleeping or eating very much. Mom was very worried and did not know where to start to help her son.

Because of some special circumstances, this mom had spent over two years trying to figure out the paperwork to get dental coverage for her son. She had even started some personal fundraising for dental care, but even these funds had to be redirected to a family emergency.

I got involved and supported the many levels of communication required in this case. There was communication to coordinate with a dental office (which took the case knowing that they may not be paid), local government staff for travel arrangements, local and regional administrators, doctors’ offices, Save a Smile program, dental therapist, and a local church.

Ultimately, people worked together and this child received full treatment within one month of their visit with me! The family was not able to pay the dental office in full at the time but the mom is still committed to sending this office extra money as she is able to. Mom is so thankful that her child sleeps and eats well and can run and play as a child should. I see him regularly for fluoride varnish; he is doing very well and will start kindergarten in the fall. He and others like him are why I love my job!

Kim:

After I graduated as a Certified Dental Assistant and started working, I quickly realized that chair-side assisting wasn’t for me. I wasn’t proud of the work I was doing or the setting I worked in. I job-hopped for a while gaining experience and looking for something that would satisfy my mind. The job-hopping stopped when I was hired as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant!

Public health has given me the opportunity to use my life skills and personal abilities in my daily work in a way that I wasn’t able to in an office setting. I’ve also had a lot of personal growth in this career. It has come to me through different work experiences such as teaching clients, presenting to groups, coaching clients through oral hygiene changes, learning about statistics and cultures, gaining computer skills, and the freedom to use my creativity to reach people when the “usual” way doesn’t work.

My career as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant has contributed to me being a well-rounded person with the confidence to tackle whatever is in front of me.

Shirley Gray

About Shirley Gray

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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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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Tales from the Man Cave: Going to your doctor is the “man-healthy” option. Why should you visit?

Man with his arm around a statue.

Talking to someone about your body and health concerns can be frightening – you may prefer statues – but Jim challenges men to be vulnerable for a while. A quick chat with the doctor can empower you to make choices about health before you are forced to be talking about disease.

It would be great if we could all cut disease off at the pass and catch every ailment before it developed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could consign disease to history with each of us simply dying in our own beds of old age?

This is a utopian dream, of course, but it is grounded in the need to move our focus from illness to health. That is my discussion here and in my opinion we actually need to access our doctors before we develop a reason to go see one.

The problem with us males might be that we tend to think that if we can work, then we must be healthy. Sometimes we also have the tendency to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the warning signs. I recently did that myself!

Going to the doctor once a year for that face-to-face time or to check blood work or blood pressure is the healthy option for men. I have heard men say that they would not visit a doctor in case “they found something.” As much as I understand that nobody wants to have “something”, it is generally better to have that “something” discovered before it bites your backside and is too late to treat effectively.

The need to try and find disease before it happens is not only wise, but is a strategy employed in many civilized nations with public health departments. Strategies such as immunization and health education are well advanced and often taken for granted. As are such things as access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Without these, many people become ill and many die.

Going to your doctor causes little harm in itself (perhaps some anxiety) and actually empowers you to make choices about your health before you are talking about your disease.

Discussing changes in our bodies and concerns about our health with our doctors gives us the best chance at avoiding some types of cancer and heart disease by making lifestyle changes when they’re still effective at improving our health. Stopping smoking, eating more vegetables and fruit, managing stress and living an active life can not only help us live longer, but live better. Feel better for longer.

Death – so far – has not been overcome, I am told.

Talk to your doctor and be a little vulnerable for a while. No one needs to know about it.

All the best.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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