Harper Bear is a happy four month old. She smiles and reacts to sights, sounds and people around her. Not unusual behaviour for a four month old, but Harper was born premature at 2 pounds, 12 oz and had to battle influenza in her first days.

Cody, Allisha and Harper Bear.

“I noticed about four days before she came home that she was really phlegmy,” says her mom Allisha. “She couldn’t bring it up. She had to be suctioned. The night before she came home she grunted the whole night. I knew something was wrong.”

“She was up every hour in the first week at home,” says dad Cody. “We had to keep her at about 45 degrees so she wouldn’t choke during the night.”

After several visits to the emergency department and numerous tests, doctors determined Harper had Influenza A. It’s not clear how Harper contracted the virus.

It is stories like Harper’s that make the Health Region’s annual influenza vaccination campaign so important. It is impossible to know who transmitted the virus to the premature baby, but one step Region employees can take to avoid accidental transmission is to get vaccinated.

The influenza vaccine is now available to staff, physicians and volunteers of Saskatoon Health Region and throughout the community for the public. In the first week of the 2012 campaign, more than 17-thousand individuals received vaccine.

Influenza is a respiratory illness and not to be confused with stomach flu. Influenza causes fever, chills, muscle aches, coughing, sneezing and fatigue. Sometimes influenza is also accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, but not usually. It can lead to hospitalization and serious side effects. Stomach flu tends to cause vomiting or diarrhea but not necessarily the other symptoms. The influenza vaccine does not work against stomach flu. However, it does protect against two strains of influenza A this year: H1N1 and H3N2 as well as a strain of influenza B.

Saskatoon Health Region’s goal is to immunize at least 27 per cent of the general public this year. The most vulnerable are those individuals who have chronic conditions as well as children five and under and adults over 65. But the goal is to immunize 80 percent of Health Region staff, in particular, those who work directly with clients, residents and patients.

For more information on vaccination clinics, visit http://www.4flu.ca or call 655-4358. Staff immunization takes place in the occupational health and safety offices at Saskatoon’s three hospitals or through roving clinics to identified departments and sites outside of the three acute care sites. Peer in long term care homes and other facilities are also available for vaccination. Rural staff may access immunization through public health offices.

Harper Bear is now over 11 pounds and a force to be reckoned with. Bright eyed and already gaining strength in her neck, she has come a long way in her short few months of life. Cody and Allisha Bear have already received their 2012 influenza immunization. “Now that we have Harper, it’s a priority,” says Cody.