Avian influenza has now been found in a number of provinces across Canada, including Alberta. Avian influenza is caused by different virus strains than those that cause seasonal influenza in humans. An avian influenza outbreak in poultry does not mean that there will be a human outbreak or pandemic.
The risk to the public of catching the avian influenza virus is very low. People cannot be exposed to avian influenza through the consumption of properly cooked poultry or eggs because the virus is destroyed by cooking.
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.
Influenza immunization during COVID-19
The influenza vaccine won’t prevent COVID-19, but it will reduce your chances of getting sick with influenza and spreading it to others. By keeping influenza counts low we can make sure our health-care system has capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and let health-care workers focus on treating people with other illnesses and injuries.
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’ offices for people 5 years old or older
- Some doctors will provide immunizations to children. Call your doctor’s office to find out more.
- Alberta Health Services (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
Alberta residents aged 65 and older will have access to a high-dose vaccine free of charge.
- If they are mobile, seniors can book appointments at their local pharmacy or doctor’s office.
- If they need assistance, seniors can call Health Link at 811.
How to get immunized safely
- Book an appointment using the new centralized vaccine booking tool at bookvaccine.alberta.ca.
- Phone Health Link at 811 to receive help in booking one or multiple vaccination appointments for family members and children.
- Contact your local pharmacist to inquire about opportunities to drop in for your vaccination.
- Contact your local physician to make an appointment.
- 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 employers' policies for COVID-19 screening.
Immunization rates and influenza cases
Alberta influenza facts
The Alberta government purchased 2.1 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2021-22 season.
In 2020-21, the Alberta government purchased 1.96 million doses of influenza vaccine:
- 37% of Albertans (roughly 1.65 million people) received the influenza vaccine
- 0 lab-confirmed influenza cases, 0 hospitalizations and 0 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.
- 2020 to 2021 – 37%
- 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. AHS reported the number of AHS health-care workers vaccinated against influenza in 2020-21 was 66%, compared to 67% in 2019-20.
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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