By: Steve Bond BScPhm, RPh, CDE

For the past two winters we have focussed on the virus that causes COVID. We have heard little about the dreaded flu. Influenza or “the flu” is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. It typically starts with a headache, chills and cough. This is followed rapidly by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, running nose, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation “The flu” can often be confused with the common cold, however there are some differences. A cold is a mild infection of the nose, throat and airways that is caused by a variety of viruses. It may last for a week and symptoms include a runny nose, stuffy nose, cough and sore throat. A person with a cold will not usually have a headache, fever or muscle aches.

The virus spreads through contact with droplets coming from someone who has the flu. Steps like masking, staying home when you are sick, have helped to keep the flu from spreading. As people become less careful, there is a high risk of the flu returning.

The best protection against influenza is getting the flu shot every year. When you get the flu shot, your body’s immune system develops protection (antibodies) against the strains of the virus in the vaccine.

Each year, the virus mutates and changes and the vaccine is tailored to try and meet these changes. This is why it is important to be immunized each fall. While some people may feel slight side effects from the vaccine, it is important to know that you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. For those over 65, there are two recommended vaccinations: the high dose flu shot and Fluad® a vaccine with a special adjuvant that makes it work better. One is not preferential over the other, but both are recommended over the standard flu shot. What about the covid shot? A new version is available. It is called bivalent because it covers the original strains of the virus plus the new omicron versions. It is recommended to receive a dose six months after your last vaccination. For those who are at highest risk such as the frail elderly and those who are immunocompromised, it may be better to get it at three months instead. Whether you are protecting yourself against covid, the flu or both, now is the time to take your shot. Take care of yourselves and each other