Flu season is coming

A study – as reported in the Globe and Mail - compared visits to the emergency departments at two children’s hospitals, one in Boston and the other in Montreal, before and after the United States adopted a policy of recommending flu shots for kids aged two to five years of age.

Before the US recommendation, the two hospitals reported similar rates of ER visits by kids with flu-like illnesses. After the change in the US policy, visits to the ER dropped by 34% in Boston when compared to the rates of ER visits in the Montreal hospital, which did not recommend flu shots for kids aged two to five years of age.

As the lead author of the study, Anne Hoen, commented about the results: “I think it’s great evidence that getting your flu shot is a good way to protect yourself and also reduce illness in the community.”

In Ontario, the flu shot is offered for free at clinics and doctor’s offices to anyone over 6 months of age and is the best way to reduce the risk of severe illness from the flu.

Flu shot and pregnancy

Pregnant women are justifiably wary of any potential harm to their baby and many women ask me about getting the flu shot during pregnancy. We recommend it. Two years ago there was concern about H1N1 and many women were anxious about the virus and the flu shot. We implemented an information program for pregnant women on the benefits of immunization and offered the vaccine in our clinics. As a result, we had the highest rate of uptake in the province.

The flu shot also offers benefits for the unborn child. Based on a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, evidence shows that for women who received the flu vaccine in pregnancy, there was a significant reduction in flu-like illness in their children in the first 6 months of life. This was likely due to protective antibodies passed from mom to baby during the pregnancy itself; what we call passive immunity. There was a 63% reduction in confirmed cases of the flu and 29% reduction in other respiratory illness with fever in the infants. For the mothers themselves, there was a 36% reduction in cases of respiratory illness with fever.

In Canada, the provincially funded programs usually start in October and immunization is recommended for children age 6 months and older; discuss with your health care provider whether the flu vaccine is right for you and your baby.

For further information on immunization for children in Canada, contact your local Public Health unit and check out the Public Health Agency of Canada especially the section on Immunization Fact and Fiction which does a great job of dispelling the misinformation and resulting misconceptions that have scared people away from immunizing themselves and their children.