Judging by some recent news reports, it would appear there is a flu pandemic ravaging the Canadian countryside this year.
Thankfully, that's not the case.
While there has been a steady stream of reports concerning this year's flu and how getting vaccinated may help prevent it, there is no concrete evidence to date to suggest it's any worse than in previous years.
And while the flu vaccine is in short supply out west, particularly in Alberta, this is due to the province not anticipating a spike in the demand when they ordered the vaccines in early 2013. They also didn't predict H1N1 (commonly referred to as the swine flu that caused widespread fear in 2009) would return to be a major player.
Unlike regular flu viruses, which generally target seniors, H1N1 is known to affect healthy adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It's one of the more dominant strains this winter, and one that we are all watching.
Like most Canadians, Albertans have been able to get vaccinated since the fall, however, many waited until the flu began to rear its ugly head. Now they're waiting hours in long lineups in hopes of receiving a vaccine that may reduce their chances of catching the flu. Coupled with the vaccine shortage, it's a situation — rightly, or wrongly — that has garnered much media attention.
To make matters worse, an Albertan died earlier this month from the first case in North America of H5N1 — a devastating bird flu generally only seen in Asia and the Middle East. In its current state, H5N1 cannot be passed from human to human.
The flu has certainly hit Alberta harder than most provinces, with eight deaths already being attributed to the illness. As of Sunday, more than 1,500 cases of the flu had been diagnosed in Alberta, about 400 of which required hospitalization.
But, it's far from an epidemic. It’s not even close.
The federal government's Public Health Agency estimates that the flu, and its complications, sends 20,000 Canadians, on average, to the hospital every year. The agency further states it's estimated between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die as a result of the flu annually.
But, those figures are merely an estimate, as a database to track all flu-related deaths does not currently exist.
The general public definitely has a role to play in preventing the spread of contagious illnesses, like the flu or common cold.
Practising good hygiene, eating healthy, and staying active will help keep your immune system strong. However, if it becomes compromised, the best thing to do is stay home, rest, and prevent spreading the germs. We all know this.
It's also incumbent upon our government to do the proper research, devise a system of tracking influenza deaths in the country, and provide citizens with accurate statistics. What's in place now is severely lacking.
As Nova Scotia's flu season ramps up, it's up to you to get inoculated, or not. It's a personal choice —and thankfully in our province, the flu shot is free for anyone who wants to get one. While the flu shot can't guarantee you won't get sick this season, it may reduce your odds. For some people, that's good enough.