Healthy Living in the North

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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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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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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Tales from the Man Cave: Immunization is the healthy option

ImmunizationNext week is national immunization week. Immunization can be a hot topic and I can be very opinionated, so, as you’d expect, here is an opinion.

We are not immune to misfortune or disease. Today there are many who oppose immunization on principle or for reasons of fear.

Celebrity has played a large role in this with scaremongering regarding immunization and sometimes well intentioned celebs put out ill-informed information with a great deal of authority, which then becomes part of societal thinking, thereby informing behaviour.

The stakes are high and what is on the table is life itself.

I had a 3-year-old who developed meningococcal meningitis. It’s no laughing matter. We were told he had a 50/50 chance. My wife took the high road and I the low road.

In my mind I was losing a son; she could not even consider such a possibility. We were 24/7 around his bedside in hospital until he pulled through and it was the most stressful thing that has ever happened to me.

Turns out she was right and for that I am forever thankful.

So from experience I am informed of the great need for immunization.

Some of the offenders have been on the planet for millions, or like E. coli, even billions of years. Some we thought were dead are reemerging.

If we look back 200 to 300 years, which in the whole scheme of things is not all that long, we will see many deaths in childhood, from scarlet fever, chicken pox, whooping cough, Polio, diphtheria and measles, not to mention Tuberculosis and others.

In fact, we only need look to the 1918-20s for the famous Spanish influenza outbreak following on the tail end of WWI, which killed an enormous amount of healthy Europeans, to see the need for immunization.

So although I know there is no point in scaremongering regarding these things I can tell you at a personal level the agony of watching a child hang in the balance and praying that the scales tip in his favor.

Be informed about immunization and take the responsibility not to pass influenza, for example, on to a more vulnerable population who might not survive it. Immunization is the healthy option.

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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