The Flu

Two or three strains of the flu make the rounds every year. Not only is the viral infection vicious, it can be lethal in otherwise healthy people.
Experts say the best way to guard against the seasonal scourge and influenza-related pneumonia is to get the flu shot.
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Each year, pneumonia is responsible for over 625 deaths in Ontario. Children and those over 65 are hardest hit; those with chronic disease such as asthma and COPD run a serious risk; but no one is immune.
The good news? The flu vaccine can help prevent pneumonia caused by the flu virus. And an inoculation with the pneumococcal vaccine offers protection against bacterial pneumonia that can lead to complications, a hospital stay or even death.
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The Flu Vaccine 

It is the most important measure you can take to protect yourself from the flu. It is recommended for everyone aged 6 months or older unless there is a reason it should not be given. The flu vaccination is given every year in the fall. It is needed annually since it contains protection against a new set of viruses every year, plus the immunity you get from the vaccination decreases over time.

The flu vaccination is especially recommended for people who are at higher risk and those who have regular contact with people at higher risk. People at higher risk from the flu include:

  • People with health conditions such as lung diseases (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseasthma)
  • Very young children and seniors
  • Pregnant people
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities

Getting the flu vaccination also helps reduce the risk that you will spread the flu to others in your family and community who may be at a higher risk of serious complications. The more people who get the flu vaccination in your community, the less risk to everyone of getting the flu. This is called “herd immunity” or “community immunity”.

Pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu. Therefore, the flu vaccination helps reduce the risk of both the flu and pneumonia infections.
If you are pregnant, getting the flu vaccine can reduce the risk that your baby will get the flu after it is born.

In individuals aged 65 and older, the immune system response to the flu vaccination is not as strong as it is in younger people. Those aged 65 and older may get more benefit from the high-dose flu vaccination, which has four times the usual dose. 

Flu Or False?

Every flu season (which generally occurs in late fall and winter), a worrying number of us come down with the influenza virus. The nasty bug can cause serious, even fatal complications (not to mention the misery of a fever, chills, congestion, and body aches). To makes matters worse, there are still many dangerous misconceptions and rumors about the flu flying around. Make sure you can separate myth from truth. Arm yourself with the straight facts about the flu, the flu shot, and what you can do to avoid catching it.

Influenza (flu) and pneumonia combine to be the 7th leading cause of death in Canada1. People affected by lung conditions (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis) are at a higher risk from flu and pneumonia infections.

One of the most effective ways to help prevent flu and pneumonia infections is with vaccinations.

The Pneumonia Vaccine: Who Knew?

Pneumococcal vaccinations help protect you against pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection) and meningitis (infection of the membrane surrounding your brain and spinal cord).

For the best protection against pneumococcal disease, adults aged 65 years and older should speak to their health care provider about getting both the Prevnar® 13 and the Pneumovax® 23 vaccines. Those not previously immunized should receive the Prevnar® 13 vaccine first followed by the Pneumovax® 23 vaccine at least eight weeks later. Those who have previously received the Pneumovax® 23 vaccine should receive the Prevnar® 13 vaccine at least one year after receiving the Pneumovax® 23 vaccine. Source: Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)

Factors that increase your risk of getting pneumonia include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Chronic lung disease (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis) or other chronic diseases (e.g., heart, kidney, liver, anemia, diabetes)
  • Very young (less developed immune system) and very old (less effective immune system)
  • Residents of a nursing home or other chronic care facility
  • Being a patient in a hospital
  • “Aspiration pneumonia” can occur when something is aspirated (inhaled) into the lungs. This can be due to:
    • Brain dysfunction (e.g., dementia, stroke, brain injury) increasing the risk that you will aspirate (inhale) food
    • Overdose of alcohol or drugs increasing the risk that you will aspirate (inhale) vomit
  • Weakened immune system (e.g., HIV/AIDS, taking corticosteroid pills, organ transplant, being treated for cancer)
  • Recent surgery