AMHERST – When it comes to fighting the flu bug, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says some protection is better than none.
With reports this year’s flu vaccine may not be as effective as hoped, Dr. Robert Strang is still urging residents to get a flu shot to protect them during what could be a busy flu season.
“Even though we get lower effectiveness against the H3 strain of the flu it still provides protection against the H1 strain and the B strain,” Strang said. “Even if it’s not as effective against the H3 strain, having partial protection is better than having no protection. We know people are likely to get it less severe if they’ve been vaccinated as opposed to not being vaccinated.”
Earlier this week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said this year’s vaccine may have limited effectiveness against a particularly strong influenza A strain that appears dominant in Canada this season.
Strang said there has been an uptick in flu activity in Nova Scotia through the last few weeks and things are expected to remain busy through the remainder of the season that traditionally ends in March or April.
“The last few weeks we’ve started to see an increase which means we’re entering that six to eight-week period of peak flu activity,” Strang said. “We normally see it in late December or early January, so we’re right on track and we’ll look for that to continue until late February or early March.”
Strang said two-thirds of the cases to date are to the H3N2 strain, or B – something he said is unusual in that it normally doesn't appear until the end of the flu season. He said the strain is also the nastier of the two and the flu vaccines are less effective against the H3 strain than the H1 strain.
“Because of the predominance of H3 this year, like last year, we’re likely to see a more severe flu season but there’s nothing to suggest we’re still going to be within the range of a normal flu season,” he said.
Strang said it takes a couple of weeks for the flu vaccine to be most effective in fighting off the flu. Because of that, and the fact the peak of the flu season is beginning, he urged people to get their flu shot as soon as possible.
Getting a vaccine, he said, is as easy as talking to a family doctor or going to the pharmacy – especially in the next week to 10 days. There is no cost for a flu shot.
On top of that, he said, something as simple as frequent hand-washing and staying home when sick go a long way toward limiting the spread of the flu.
“Along with vaccination, we always want to emphasize at this time of year things like good hand-washing and if you do have flu symptoms stay home. Don’t go to work or go our in public,” he said. “You’ll get better faster and help prevent the spread of the flu.”