By Danielle Strohm
Experts are warning that this year’s flu season will start sooner and be harsher than previous years. As the weather gets colder, viruses such colds and flus start to go around.
In an email to Humber News, David Jensen, media relations coordinator at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, said it is impossible to predict when the virus will hit. The season can occur anywhere between October and May, peaking in January.
“While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of disease activity varies from one year to another, depending on many factors, including which influenza viruses are circulating and the extent to which they match the viruses in the vaccine,” said Jensen.
The symptoms for the common cold and the flu are similar with some variations. Unlike the cold, fevers, fatigue, headache and weakness are common with the flu. In children, croup, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common.
To avoid getting sick, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care recommends hand washing, using an alcohol-based sanitizer, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoiding crowds and keeping commonly used surfaces clean and disinfected.
Officials said the best way to prevent contracting the flu is by getting vaccinated.
MaryAnn Holmes, manger of the vaccinations program at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said everyone over six months old should get the shot.
“Even if you haven’t been able to get the shot in past, talk to your health care provider,” said Holmes. “The flu shot has changed in the past few years and can be given to more people.”
This year’s vaccine protects against the H1N1 and two other strains of the virus.
Jensen said Ontario has 4.6 million doses of the vaccine available free to the public at immunization clinics, health care providers and pharmacies across the province.
For children between the ages of two and five, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said FluMist, a nasal spray, is the preferred method. The FluMist vaccine is available in Ontario from a health care provider. It is not currently funded under the Universal Influenza Immunization Program and costs about $30.
The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is reviewing the spray for future funding.
Children, seniors and those who have chronic conditions are urged to see their health care provider for the vaccine.
Immunization clinics begin across Ontario this month. See the Toronto Public Health website for their schedule or your local health unit. Approximately 2,400 pharmacies are also providing shots.