Healthy Living in the North

Don’t let the flu get to you!

A graphic stating, "Don't let the flu get to you! Find a flu clinic near you at immunizebc.ca."“In Canada, vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention in the past 50 years.” — ImmunizeBC

Northern Health’s Regional Nursing Lead, Immunization, Pat S., says one of the best ways you can stay healthy and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases is to get immunized.

Pat says when people are immunized, they not only protect themselves, they also protect those around them.

“There are people in our communities who can’t get immunized, such as babies who may be too young to get vaccines, people with poor immune systems, and people with certain medical reasons such as those undergoing cancer treatment,” says Pat. “By staying current with your vaccinations, you can help protect those people in your communities. The more people who are immunized, the better, because then it’s more difficult for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread.”

What is influenza?

Influenza, also called “the flu” is an infection of the upper airway caused by the influenza virus; it can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or face-to-face contact. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness, and cough. Children may also have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

It’s important to get a flu shot to protect yourself; it can be a serious and sometimes fatal infection.

Where can I get a flu shot?

Across Northern Health, seasonal influenza vaccines are available starting November 4 at Northern Health’s Public Health Units, for people eligible for publicly-funded flu shots. The vaccine is recommended for and provided free to the following groups:

  • People at high risk:
  • Seniors (65+)
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • People who are morbidly obese
  • Pregnant women
  • People with certain chronic diseases
  • People who could infect those at high risk
  • People who provide essential community services

Pat adds that in BC, flu shots are also provided at pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and travel clinics. To find a flu clinic near you, visit ImmunizeBC – Find an Influenza (Flu) Clinic.

Visit Northern Health FluImmunizeBC or HealthLink BC for more detailed information on:

  • The flu
  • Flu vaccine eligibility
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine eligibility (Pneumovax®23)

In addition, Pat encourages anyone looking for information about shingles or the shingles vaccine – which is not provided free in BC – to talk to their local care provider.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications consultant for Northern Health. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes.

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Your flu shot: be strong like Tom

Thomas showing his muscles.
Be strong like Thomas: get your flu shot.

Did you know, this year’s flu shot is working better than past years? Official estimates have the flu shot hovering around 70% effectiveness, far better than recent years.

So, what’s your hesitation? Not enough time? Hate getting a needle? Not sure where to get one? If you’ve used any of these an excuse to avoid the flu shot, I’d like to introduce you to Thomas.

Thomas is 7, he has a dog named Kodiak, he does judo, and he wants to ­be an electrician when he gets a little older.

Besides being a pretty cool kid, Thomas knows the flu shot is the best way to protect himself from the flu. What he didn’t know, but he learned this year, is that it also helps protect everybody else! Kids like him, babies, the elderly, and those with vulnerable immune systems are all impacted by him getting the shot!

Thomas and a local news crew.
“Just my arm was a little bit sore but that was ok because I got to be on the news.”

Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“I was a little nervous because I was afraid it would hurt a lot. But it didn’t hurt until after, and just my arm was a little bit sore but that was okay because I got to be on the news.”

Thomas is one tough kid!

Looking to be like Tom and get the shot? Find a flu clinic in no time on the Immunize BC website.

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Remembering the importance of immunizations

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)

A dad holding his smiling daughter.

Did you know that in this past century, in Canada, more lives have been saved due to immunizations than any other public health initiative? Even with this amazing fact, many people remain under- or un-immunized, and a recent B.C. incident highlights the risks posed by vaccine preventable diseases (VPD). The Okanagan experienced a meningitis outbreak last fall, with several people becoming ill. Sadly, there was one case where meningococcal disease contributed to death.

Vaccines work

Immunizations, also known as vaccinations, help to protect you from getting a VPD. When you get vaccinated, you also help to protect others by interfering with a germ’s ability to spread (this effect is called herd or community immunity). It’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch an infectious disease.

Consider what happens in the absence of vaccinations. Unvaccinated children contract vaccine preventable illnesses and diseases at higher rates than vaccinated children. Varicella (chicken pox) rates can be up to nine times higher, measles up to 35 times higher, and pertussis (whooping cough) up to between six and 28 times higher! Further, VPDs are more severe in infants and younger children. Delayed immunizations also increase the duration that a child is vulnerable to VPDs.

Northern Health is working to improve vaccination rates

Northern Health manages, allocates, and distributes $6 million dollars’ worth of publicly funded vaccine each year within the northern region, ensuring that vaccines are available to those who need them, when they need them. Northern Health is also conducting a quality improvement study to determine if an automated telephone message is a feasible and useful reminder for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations.

In other efforts, Northern Health is embarking on a childhood immunization strategy to ensure that all two-year-olds are fully caught up. This is accomplished by closely monitoring vaccination rates, increasing the promotion of immunizations, and improving access to vaccination services. Northern Health intends to increase the average immunization rate of 70%, to 75% next year, 85% by 2021, and 90% by 2023.

What you can do

It’s really simple: get vaccinated. Influenza season is here and most pharmacies and public health facilities offer flu shots. Look for locations via ImmunizeBC’s Flu Clinic locator website.

Other vaccines you might need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans, but also on those you have close contact with (think of infants under six months of age, the elderly, as well as people with depressed immune systems). What vaccines you had as a child is also a consideration. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccines you need. Finally, get your children vaccinated according to BC’s recommended vaccination schedule.

More information about immunizations

Please refer to the following excellent Canadian-based web resources:

Mike Gagel

About Mike Gagel

Hailing from Vancouver, Mike and his family moved to Prince George in the summer of 2013. Mike joined Northern Health in March 2017 and works as the Regional Manager for Communicable Disease. Mike worked in healthcare for twenty years in various roles including Oncology Nurse (BC Cancer), Clinical Research Nurse (UBC Dermatology), Regional Manager (Vancouver Coastal), and consultant Web Officer (PHSA). He also worked as a technology director with the BC School Trustees Association before joining Northern Health. Outside work, Mike volunteers with Scouts Canada, and Chairs the Prince George Public Library Board and is serving as President of the BC Library Trustees Association until 2021.

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Protecting the vulnerable: the reality of flu

As a former public health nurse (that person who immunizes you at public clinics), getting the flu shot was always about protecting my patients … until it got more personal. In 2015, my parents called to let me know they had the flu and they weren’t doing well. They asked if I could come to visit and bring over a few essentials, and my mum mentioned she was worried about my dad. After a short chat with her, I went straight over.

My dad is immune compromised. One year prior, in 2014, he had survived bladder and prostate cancer after extensive surgery that left him with a urostomy. He also has chronic kidney disease, which makes becoming ill and dehydrated very dangerous. When I arrived at my parents, I found my dad had a high fever, was lethargic, achy all over, and very weak. One look at him, and I knew we had to go to the emergency room.

family, flu, aging

Getting your flu shot protects you and loved ones (like my dad!) from flu-related complications.

Influenza had left him dehydrated and with the beginnings of a kidney infection. He felt unable to eat or drink, which quickly progressed to being unable to keep anything down. Although not a symptom of the flu itself, this was a glimpse into a 17-day saga of complications caused by influenza and dehydration.

Ten days later, dad was still in the hospital, unable to eat or drink, or pass anything through his digestive system, and he was put onto IV nutrition. We were all getting worried: my family and the doctors. Following tests and multiple procedures, he underwent abdominal surgery to investigate. The doctors found adhesions of scar tissue that formed in his bowel from his previous surgery for cancer and, once ill and unable to eat and drink well, the tissue formed a blockage in his bowel.

The two and a half weeks dad spent in the hospital were scarier and more stressful than cancer and kidney disease combined. He could have died. It became obvious to our whole family how fragile his health really could be. It was a clear reminder of the devastating impact that influenza can have on a person with complex medical issues and history. It was also my own, real-life reminder of why protecting vulnerable populations from the flu is so vital to their health.

Today, I’m an occupational health nurse (that person who pokes Northern Health staff at staff clinics and educates people about immunization). Putting my professional hat back on, I want to remind you that the Provincial Influenza Prevention policy is in effect from December 1, 2017 to the end of flu season (around March 31, 2018). Staff, patients, and visitors are asked to help protect immune-compromised populations (like my dad!) from the flu by ensuring you are immunized or that you mask when you’re in a patient-care area at Northern Health facilities.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m happy to report that dad is living a healthy life to its fullest! He and mum are currently backpacking in Southeast Asia!

Ami Drummond

About Ami Drummond

Since moving to Prince George in August 2016, Ami has enjoyed learning her role as an Occupational Health Nurse & Safety Advisor. Ami works with employees, physicians, managers and leaders to incorporate health and safety into their daily work. Outside work life, Ami enjoys hiking with her daughter and hound dog.

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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

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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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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