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Updated: 9th February 2019 06:56


Flu outlook more promising than the weather outside

Flu shot season starts in mid-October, with a forecast of milder than usual sneezes and sniffles ahead.

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Free shots for Albertans over six months old available starting Oct. 15

People who get immunized see their risk of getting sick from the flu reduced by 50 to 70 per cent, according to Alberta Health Services. (Tony Talbot/AP)

Family physician and medical columnist Dr. Raj Bhardwaj spoke Tuesday on the Calgary Eyeopener  about who, exactly, should make it a high priority to get a flu shot this year, along with how nasty this year's strain of flu might get.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Click here to listen to the full conversation.

Q: What's new with flu shots?

A:  Vaccines are getting better. For people 65 and older, there's a high dose vaccine that is shown to be a little more effective than the regular dose vaccine.

The problem is, that you have to give it to a lot of people to prevent one extra flu … and it's actually a lot more costly. If you take a senior and give them all high dose flu vaccines, we would have to vaccinate about 200 extra seniors to prevent one case of influenza — and about 4,000 extra seniors to prevent one hospitalization.

So because of that, the Alberta government isn't paying for the high dose vaccine — but the vaccine we have does cover four strains, which is still pretty exciting.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, the Calgary family physician and medical columnist, says that this year's flu strain, the H1N1 virus, is milder than others. (Raj Bardwaj)

Q: Who should get a flu shot?

A: Everybody should be getting vaccinated, but there are people in high-risk groups who we really think should definitely get it.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, for sure.

If a woman is breast feeding, she's five to 10 times more likely to be hospitalized — and her baby is much more likely to be born premature, or even if not born premature, with a low birth weight, which has its own set of complications.

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, get the shot

People with chronic diseases — heart, lungs, things like that — get the shot. Also, the new thing on the list this year is neurological disease: dementia, Parkinson, MS [multiple sclerosis], things like that.

People who live in any kind of long-term care, chronic care facility should definitely get one, just because their risk is so much higher, plus their immune system is a little bit more weakened due to age.

People over 65 and also kids between six months and five years need to get it, because their immune system might not be up to snuff  — and interestingly, also Indigenous people, who get hit harder than others, so they're on the list.

Also health-care professionals, and first responders.

And finally, people who say, "I can't afford to miss work. My company will collapse! Everyone else will have to do my work!"

So get your shot!

Q: How was flu season in Australia, where flu season is the mirror opposite of Canada's, this year? 

A: They actually had a pretty mild flu season, which is good.

One of the reasons was that the strain going around there was the H1N1 strain, which typically doesn't cause as bad a disease.

H3N2 is the strain that tends to mutate really quickly and cause more pandemic-type influenza things, more outbreaks. So hopefully this year ours won't be so bad.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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