By Jessica Lovell
In spite of reports from the local health unit that this has been a busy flu season so far, people don’t seem to be rushing out to get their shot.
Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health has administered between 6,100 and 6,200 doses of the flu vaccine since flu shot clinics started in November, said manager of infections diseases Janice Walters. She describes this season as “not our best year, by far.”
In addition to the shots administered by the health unit, it has also distributed 37,650 doses of the vaccine to physicians, long-term-care homes, hospitals and pharmacies, she said.
That might seem like a lot of shots, but given that the local health unit serves an area with a population of about 250,000 people, it’s really not a lot, she said.
At this time last year – during a season that the health unit reported as a mild season for flu activity – public health had given about 10,000 flu shots and had distributed 61,000 doses of the vaccine to area physicians, hospitals and long-term care homes.
“We would like to see as many people as possible (getting vaccinated),” said Walters.
Public health’s lofty goal is to administer shots to 70 to 80 per cent of the population, but in reality, “traditionally, that number is closer to 30 to 40 per cent,” she said.
This season’s numbers are sitting at less than 18 per cent, assuming that all the distributed doses have been or will be administered, which is not necessarily the case. Actual numbers will not be available until the end of the season, Walters said.
Last year, low numbers were attributed to a mild winter and a relatively mild flu season, but this year the same reasoning doesn’t apply.
“We have currently nine (care) facilities that have confirmed outbreaks,” said Walters, noting there has been more illness in the general public, too.
In addition to the outbreaks in care facilities – two of which are in Guelph – there are 112 confirmed community cases, she said.
“That is just sort of the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the actual disease in the community,” she said.
Numbers are likely much higher, as many people do not visit the doctor for a case of the flu, and unless the doctor tests to confirm the sickness is flu, the case does not get reported to the health unit, explained Walters.
“Overall, we’ve had a very busy season,” she said.
In a hospital or long-term-care home, an outbreak is declared if one case of influenza is confirmed, because in that kind of environment, “once it’s introduced, it spreads quite quickly,” she said.
The health unit goes to work right away treating all residents with anti-virals, she said.
Walters stressed that people should not doubt the effectiveness of the flu vaccine just because they have had the shot before, but still become ill with the “stomach flu.”
The gastro-intestinal illness that people often label as stomach flu is usually norovirus, and the flu vaccine does not protect against that. It protects from respiratory influenza, said Walters, adding, “the virus that is currently circulating is a very good match to this year’s vaccine.
For people who have not yet had the vaccine, it is not too late, although flu clinics have wrapped up for the season. Shots are still available through pharmacies and family doctors, and by appointment through the health unit by calling 519-846-2715.