I’m doing it again: I’m writing a blog about influenza and the flu vaccine. When I consider the greatest risks to our residents, influenza is very high on my list. It’s right up there with falls. Why? Because the flu is often fatal in our older population.
Influenza is one of the 10 major causes of death in the elderly. It is also a huge challenge for our staff, residents and families when there is an outbreak. Isolating our residents prevents them from taking part in the activities we know are so important for their well-being. Restricting visitors leaves our residents even more isolated and alone, which increases their risk of delirium, particularly if they have dementia. Infected staff need to take time off leading to staffing shortages and enormous workloads. The effects are far-reaching.
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu. There are multiple studies that demonstrate that vaccinated staff reduce deaths from influenza, and the numbers are quite impressive. In one study the resident mortality rate demonstrated an 8% drop (which amounted to 40 fewer deaths).
Some people think that if others get the vaccine there’s no reason for them to get it too. This is especially concerning when accounting for older adults as the effectiveness of the vaccine begins to diminish after the age of 65 as the immune system functions less efficiently. It is especially important that we reduce their exposure to the virus.
Here are the three most common myths about the flu and the vaccine:
- The flu isn’t serious
While younger, healthier individuals may experience only mild symptoms, influenza results in more than 12,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths each year in Canada. The most likely groups of people to be impacted are those over the age of 65, under the age of five, pregnant women, indigenous peoples and people with chronic disease like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.
- You can get the flu from the flu shot
The flu shot does not contain a live virus, it is made from an inactivated virus so it CANNOT transmit infection. It takes up to two weeks to be protected so it is possible that someone can be exposed to the flu virus after they’ve had the shot but before it’s become effective. This is why some people think they got sick from the shot.
- Healthy people don’t need to get a flu shot
Health Canada recommends the vaccine for people who are capable of transmitting influenza to those at high risk. This includes health care workers, household contacts of individuals at high risk of influenza-related complications, members of a household expecting a newborn during influenza season, those providing regular child care to children less than 60 months of age, and those who provide services within closed or relatively closed settings to persons at high risk.
Vaccination is considered to be the second greatest medical discovery of all-time, behind penicillin. Vaccines have eradicated some diseases like smallpox and polio and dramatically lowered the incidence of diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. Influenza vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective and reduces discomfort, hospitalization and death among older adults.
I will get my shot as I do every year. I want our residents to be safe. I want our homes to be protected from outbreak. I want our staff healthy so they can continue to provide the amazing care they do daily. Just get your flu shot.