Influenza – commonly referred to as the flu – is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that affects the nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is contagious and easily passed from person to person.
Influenza lowers the body’s ability to fight other infections, including COVID-19. It can lead to bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, and even death especially in the elderly, children (6 to 59 months), pregnant women, Indigenous people, and people with chronic medical conditions. Most healthy people recover from influenza without severe complications.
Various strains of the influenza virus circulate throughout the world each year and new strains can emerge and spread.
Seasonal influenza is the annual influenza that affects people in Canada during the winter, typically between November and April. While you can get influenza at any time, even in summer, it is most common in the colder months
How to prevent influenza
The best ways to prevent seasonal influenza is by:
- getting the influenza vaccine every year because the virus changes each year
- washing your hands often
Antibiotics do not work against the influenza virus or any other virus. Antiviral medications may be used for treatment or prevention of influenza.
Vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year but immunization is still the best protection. The effectiveness of the current vaccine is not known when the immunization program begins but is determined as the season progresses.
All Albertans 6 months of age and older can get the current 4-strain influenza vaccine free of charge by appointment at:
- Pharmacies and doctors office for people 5 years old or older
- AHS public health clinics:
- for children under 5, their parents and household members
- for people without a provincial health care number
- where there is no other immunizing health care provider
- Provincially funded long-term care facilities will now offer a high-dose vaccine free of charge to residents over 65
How to get immunized safely
- Contact your local pharmacist or physician to make an appointment or book an appointment at a public health clinic online and arrive as close to the appointment time as you can.
- Stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate and complete the AHS online assessment.
- Follow safety protocols: wear a mask, wash your hands, stay 2 metres apart when possible.
- Fill out forms online when possible.
Staff and volunteers at clinics and venues offering influenza immunization must follow their employer’s policies for COVID-19 screening.
Alberta influenza facts
The Alberta government purchased 1.96 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2020-21 season. This is enough to immunize 45% of the population.
In 2019-20, the Alberta government purchased 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine:
- 33% of Albertans (roughly 1.4 million people) received the influenza vaccine
- 1,595 hospitalizations and 41 deaths (in hospital) among people with lab-confirmed influenza
Alberta has offered universal influenza immunization free of charge since 2009. Before 2009, the program targeted those most at risk of disease and complications.
Yearly influenza immunization rates
Every year we encourage more Albertans to get immunized.
- 2019 to 2020 – 33%
- 2018 to 2019 – 31%
- 2017 to 2018 – 29%
- 2016 to 2017 – 27%
- 2015 to 2016 – 27%
- 2014 to 2015 – 30%
- 2013 to 2014 – 27.6%
- 2012 to 2013 – 23%
- 2011 to 2012 – 22.5%
- 2010 to 2011 – 22%
Health care worker immunization
Health care workers are strongly encouraged to get immunized. Alberta Health Services reported the number of AHS healthcare workers vaccinated against influenza in 2019-20 was 67%, compared to 68% in 2018-19.
Alberta has a voluntary immunization policy for health care workers. The focus is on education, promotion, and making it easy for health care workers to get immunized.
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