Each year, influenza accounts for a significant number of hospitalizations and emergency department visits. The young, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions who contract influenza can experience serious outcomes, including pneumonia and secondary respiratory infections. Yet, only 41 per cent of children under five, 20 per cent of pregnant women and 56 per cent of seniors were immunized in 2014-15.

Chart

Figure 1. Influenza Immunization Coverage by Risk Group, Saskatoon Health Region.
Source: SIMS and Population & Public Health

The 2015-16 influenza season has occurred later than usual, but has been a typical one.  To date, 23 per cent of the 128 influenza A cases reported have been hospitalized, compared to 33 per cent last year. For the previous two seasons, influenza peaked between December and January. As predicted, this year the peak is occurring in the third and fourth weeks of February.

“We were beginning to see an upswing in confirmed influenza cases in early February,” Dr. Simon Kapaj, Saskatoon Health Region Deputy Medical Health Officer, said. “Of particular concern are the health risks that seasonal influenza poses to our most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or other chronic health conditions, and their caregivers. Vaccination is the safest and most effective way for anyone to protect themselves and their loved ones against influenza.”

Influenza is a common respiratory infection caused primarily by influenza A and B viruses. So far, this year’s dominant strain is H1N1, which is included in this year’s vaccine. This strain tends to affect adults, children and infants more severely than H3N2, which is usually more severe for the elderly. Influenza is highly contagious and can spread from person to person through aerosol droplets (coughs and sneezes) or contact with respiratory secretions. Symptoms of influenza typically include the sudden onset of high fever, chills, sore throat, cough and muscle aches. Other common symptoms include headache, poor appetite, fatigue and runny nose. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are not as likely, but may occur, especially in children. Most healthy people will recover within a week or 10 days.

Influenza is prevented by:

  • Getting the annual influenza immunization
  • Practicing hand hygiene (i.e., washing your hands or using hand sanitizer)
  • Covering your cough
  • Staying home when sick.

The Region is again encouraging anyone who has not yet received a seasonal influenza vaccine to get immunized to protect themselves and their loved ones from influenza.

Approximately 83,578 people in Saskatoon Health Region have been immunized to date; 65,358 by Population and Public Health nurses and others, and 19,847 by pharmacists. At present, 63.04 per cent of Region employees have been immunized, in comparison to 93.96 per cent at this time last year.

“Although it’s best to get vaccinated against influenza in the fall months prior to peak influenza season, the vaccine may still be administered up to the end of the season, around March 31, 2016,” said Dr. Kapaj.

Individuals who still want to receive the influenza vaccine can:

  • Call and ask their physician’s office for an appointment.
  • Visit a pharmacy (for people nine years of age and older). You may want to call ahead as some pharmacies no longer have the vaccine available.
  • Call 306-655-4620 to book an appointment at a public health office. Please be advised that appointment availability may be limited. Also, please note that FluMist is no longer available.

For a list of physician offices and pharmacies offering the vaccine, visit www.4flu.ca.

For more information on influenza, view the fact sheet.