Health region gears up for influenza season

Dr. Simon Kapaj
Dr. Simon Kapaj

The Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) is counting on its annual immunization campaign to keep a potential influenza outbreak in check.
Dr. Simon Kapaj, SHR deputy medical health officer, said the health region’s vaccination campaign is set to begin Monday, October 19, with public clinics in Saskatoon and other communities, including Warman and Martensville.
In an interview on Wednesday, September 23, Kapaj said it is important for people to be immunized, not only to protect their own health, but also to keep their families, co-workers and others safe.
“The flu season tends to start around the end of October in Canada and the United States,” said Kapaj. “It continues over the winter months and ends sometime at the end of March or early April.
“We encourage everyone to get the vaccine, especially children, seniors, pregnant women and people that have chronic illness.”
Kapaj said influenza (also known as ‘flu’) viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine is updated each year based on which influenza viruses are making people sick, how those viruses are spreading, and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses.
All manufacturers that distribute influenza vaccine products in Canada confirm to Health Canada that the vaccines to be marketed in women, young children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.
“For SHR, hospitalizations are only known to us in connection to a lab-confirmed positive cases. For the 2013-2014 SHR season we had 307 cases (268 Type A+39 Type B) and in the 2014-2015 season we had 563 cases (457 Type A+106 Type B),” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that in any given year, an average of 12,200 people are hospitalized due to influenza.
It also estimates that approximately 3,500 deaths are directly attributable to influenza annually.
“For this year, it’s still early in the season and flu is highly unpredictable,” said Kapaj. “However, we are expecting a decrease of morbidity, especially in high risk groups. The impact of this season’s immunization campaign on patient demand depends on several factors.”
He noted that vaccines will be available at public clinics and also through family physicians.
Kapaj said “vaccine hesitancy” among some groups is an issue the SHR is addressing. “It’s a complex issue and is not limited only to the flu vaccine,” said Kapaj. “It is also a factor when it comes to immunizations for other serious diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. In part it may be due to the fact we don’t see many of these cases so people don’t take it seriously.”
He said as long as the level of “herd immunity” is high for the population as a whole, epidemics of these diseases are not likely.
“With measles, for example, if 94 or 95 per cent of the population is immunized against the disease, it is unlikely to be a serious problem. The higher the herd immunity, the higher the disease resistance level.”