It’s that time of year again when health officials are urging Albertans to be immunized against influenza.
Starting Oct. 23, all Albertans ages six months and older will be able to get immunized free of charge.
“We strongly encourage Albertans to get immunized as soon as possible when the clinics open,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, medical officer of health in the Central Zone.
She added that Alberta Health has worked with partners to make immunization, “Convenient for Albertans. People can go to one of many immunization clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ office to get their flu shots.”
This year, Alberta Health Services has ordered 1.6 million doses of vaccine – enough to immunize 35 per cent of the population.
“This amount is based on immunization rates from previous years,” she said. “We expect it will be enough for us to meet this year’s demand.
“Last year, 27 per cent of Albertans were immunized – about the same rate as the year before,” she said.
According to Alberta Health Services, influenza spreads rapidly – the virus passes from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
The virus can also live on hands and is then passed to surfaces through touching. It can live on hard surfaces such as door handles, telephones, light switches, computer keyboards, countertops for up to 48 hours, and on soft surfaces like clothing for eight to 10 hours.
Infection can also happen when people touch any surface contaminated with the virus and then touch their own mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. People usually develop symptoms of influenza within four days after becoming infected.
Symptoms include fever that starts suddenly, a dry cough that can last for weeks, headache, an aching body especially in the lower back and legs and feeling very weak and tired. Other symptoms can include chills, loss of appetite, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose.
Dr. Gerry Predy, a senior medical officer of health, said that influenza sends more Albertans to the emergency departments than strokes and heart attacks.
“We’ve already seen some influenza activity over the summer which is somewhat unusual,” he said. “People do die of influenza – it’s not an innocuous disease.” Immunization reduces a person’s risk of getting sick by about 40 per cent, he said.
Pointers to also help protect yourself from getting sick run the gamut from getting immunized, washing your hands with warm water and soap or use an alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer) often, covering your cough or sneezing into your arm or a tissue (not your hand) and staying home when you are sick.
Officials add that protection starts about two weeks after you get the vaccine.
Immunization is given at Alberta Health Services (AHS) Influenza Immunization Clinics, from late October to the end of March. To find local clinic schedules, visit www.ahs.ca/influenza or call Health Link at 811.
Many family doctors and pharmacists offer free influenza vaccine as well. Call ahead before visiting to find out if your doctor or pharmacist is offering the vaccine.
There are two clinics planned for Sylvan Lake, both taking place at the Alliance Church. A drop-in clinic will be held at the church on Nov. 2 from 1-7 p.m. Another session will be held on Nv. 30 from 1-7 p.m. This clinic will be done by drop-in and pre-booked appointments.
Eckville will also have two clinics, both held at the Eckville Community Health Centre. The first clinic is a drop-in clinic from 1-7 p.m. on Oct. 26. The second clinic is by pre-booked appointments only on Nov. 27, from 2-7 p.m.
Clinics are planned for the Golden Circle on Nov. 6th from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Kentwood Alliance Church on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m.; the First Christian Reformed Church on Nov. 18th from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Dec. 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Other times include the Harvest Centre on Oct. 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Oct. 24 from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Clinics at the Harvest Centre are also planned for Oct. 25 from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m.. Oct. 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Nov. 1 from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Harvest Centre dates are drop-in or by appointment, whereas the others listed are drop-in only.
For a complete list of local clinics, visit albertahealthservices.ca.