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Influenza

Influenza Immunization FAQs

What is influenza?

Influenza is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs (respiratory tract) that is caused by a virus. Influenza can happen any time of year, but most cases happen in the winter months.

How is influenza spread?

Influenza is spread through the air. The virus gets in the air when someone with the disease coughs, sneezes, or even talks. People who breathe in the virus can get sick. It can also be spread by touching objects that have been coughed or sneezed on by someone with the virus.

How serious is influenza?

Most people who get sick with influenza get better. But, influenza causes about 20,000 people to get admitted to the hospital and about 4,000 deaths in Canada each year.

There is a higher risk of getting complications from influenza for:

  • babies
  • pregnant women
  • people 65 and older
  • children 6 months up to 5 years
  • people with chronic health problems

Complications of influenza can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration. Influenza can also make chronic medical problems (e.g., congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes) worse.

What are the symptoms of influenza?

The symptoms of influenza can include:

  • fever (temperature of 38.5 oC or 101.3 oF or higher) that starts suddenly
  • cough
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired

How can influenza be prevented?

  • Get the influenza vaccine. Influenza vaccine is a very effective way to protect people from getting sick with influenza. You need to get immunized every year because the influenza viruses change. A new vaccine is made each year to protect against the viruses most likely to cause illness in that year. The best time to get immunized is in October or November, but you can get immunized any time during influenza season.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that has alcohol in it. For more information, see: Handwashing
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your arm or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home and rest when you are sick.

Is the influenza vaccine safe?

Yes. In Canada, vaccines undergo laboratory and field-testing. They must pass a strict licensing procedure with the federal government before they can be used. Once a vaccine has been approved for use, every lot is tested for safety and quality. You can’t get influenza disease from the influenza vaccine.

If I was immunized last year, do I need to get immunized again this year?

Yes. Influenza vaccine is needed every year because influenza viruses change from year to year. It’s not unusual for new influenza viruses to appear each year. When viruses change, so do the vaccines.

The World Health Organization identifies the strains of influenza that they predict will be the most common during the upcoming season. This information is used to develop the influenza vaccine to protect against these strains. The immunity you get from your vaccine decreases over time, which means you need to get immunized every year to stay protected (even if you've been immunized against the same strain before).

To protect yourself against influenza, get immunized every year. Make it part of your fall routine.
 

I am in Alberta, but I’m not an Alberta resident; can I get immunized?

If you currently live, work, or go to school in Alberta, you can get immunized for free at any of the Alberta Health Services influenza immunization clinics. For example, if you usually live in Nova Scotia but are working in Alberta, or you live in Ontario but are going to university in Alberta, you are eligible for the vaccine for free. You can find the schedule for an immunization clinic near you at Immunization Clinic Schedule.

If I am healthy, why do I need to get immunized?

Getting immunized is one of the best ways to prevent influenza. It’s a good idea for everyone in Alberta to get immunized, even healthy people not at risk of complications. If you have influenza, you can be sick for 5 to 10 days, but it can take weeks to fully recover. By protecting yourself, you help protect people around you who are at risk of complications from influenza. If more people are protected, less people will get sick from influenza.

I don’t normally get influenza; do I really need to get immunized?

It’s a good idea for everyone to get immunized for influenza every year. Influenza vaccine is the best way to decrease the chances that you will get influenza and spread it to others.

If I am pregnant or breastfeeding, can I get immunized?

If you are pregnant (or planning to get pregnant), it’s safe to get immunized with the inactivated influenza vaccine.

If you are breastfeeding, it’s safe to get the inactivated or live influenza vaccine.

For more information, see: Influenza Immunization Information if You are Pregnant, Breastfeeding, or have a Newborn

If I have a latex allergy can I get the vaccine?

If you have a latex allergy, you can get the vaccine. There is no latex in the vaccine or the vaccine packaging.

Can I get the vaccine if I take any medicines?

It’s safe to get the inactivated influenza vaccine if you take any type of medicine. If you aren’t sure or have questions, talk to your healthcare provider.

If you take antiviral medicine, the live influenza vaccine might not work well or it may affect how your medicine works. Don’t get the live vaccine until 48 hours after you have stopped taking antiviral medicine. If you get the live influenza vaccine, don’t take any antiviral medicine for 2 weeks unless your doctor tells you to. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor.

Can I get the vaccine at the same time as other vaccines?

The inactivated influenza vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines. Often, the pneumococcal vaccine and routine childhood vaccines are given at the same time as the influenza vaccine.

Tell your immunizing nurse if you (or your child) have had a live vaccine in the past 4 weeks or if you plan to get any other live vaccines. Live vaccines can interfere with each other if they aren’t given at the same time or spaced out as needed. Live vaccines include:

  • measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • chicken pox (varicella)
  • yellow fever

Can I donate blood if I get the influenza vaccine?

If you have donated blood, you don’t have to wait to get immunized.

If you get the inactivated or live nasal influenza vaccine, go to the Canadian Blood Services website at www.blood.ca or call 1-888-236-6283 before you donate blood.

How long does it take for the vaccine to start working?

It takes about 2 weeks after getting the vaccine to be protected from influenza. You can be protected for up to 1 year. The vaccine won’t protect you from colds or other respiratory illnesses not caused by influenza.

How well does the vaccine work?

How well the influenza vaccine works can vary widely from season to season. It also depends on the age and health of the person being immunized. When the influenza strains in the vaccine are the same as the strains in the community, there are benefits from immunization in preventing influenza illness in healthy adults and older children. Even for older adults and people with medical problems, the influenza vaccine still may provide some protection.

Research shows that the vaccine can decrease:

  • complications in people that are high-risk
  • pneumonia, hospital admissions, and deaths in older adults
  • doctor visits, hospital admissions, and deaths in high-risk people between 18 and 64

For more information, see:
Influenza Vaccine
Influenza (Seasonal Flu)

Last Revised: November 1, 2013

Author: Influenza Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services​​

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