Below are some of the frequently asked questions (with answers) that we have been receiving in clinic these days regarding this year’s influenza season:

1. Is this flu season any different from previous years?

Answer: It is very hard to answer this since the influenza virus is very well known to act in extremely unpredictable ways.  Having said that, there have been an unusually high number of severe flu infections causing a higher than usual number of severe illnesses and deaths this year in North America.  For example, as of this week, 451 people in Alberta have been hospitalized for influenza infections and 5 have died.  1 person in British Columbia has died with more than 20 having been admitted to intensive care units for influenza infections, many requiring ventilators to stay alive.   Texas has been particularly hard hit with 25 reported deaths from influenza thus far.

2. Is there a particular strain that is causing these severe flu infections?

Answer: It appears that the H1N1 strain (originally called Swine Flu) is responsible for most of these severe infections.  This is the same strain that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

3. Is the H1N1 strain any more dangerous than other flu strains?

Answer: It is probably too early to say for sure, but certainly the number of severe infections and deaths reported thus far does suggest that this H1N1 strain is a particularly virulent (nasty/dangerous/severe) one.

4. Does this year’s flu vaccine protect against this H1N1 influenza virus?

Answer: Yes. This season’s flu shot is designed to provide immunity against this particular H1N1 strain.

 5. I received the flu vaccine in 2009 and 2010.  Both of those vaccines protected against H1N1 influenza.  Doesn’t that mean I am protected this year too, even if I didn’t get this season’s flu shot?

Answer: Not necessarily. Since 2009, the virus has likely mutated a number of times.  The current H1N1 virus is likely different enough from the 2009 one that the vaccines from 5 and 4 years ago are no longer protective.

6. How long after I get my flu vaccine will my body be protected? 

Answer: It takes about 2 weeks for your body to respond to the vaccine and build up enough antibodies to be protected.

7. I understand that one flu vaccine is recommended per person per year. Is it the same story for children?

Answer: Yes, but with two exceptions:

  1. Young children may not build up enough immunity after their first ever flu vaccine.  In other words, for any child under 9 years old who has never received a flu shot before, a second booster dose (at least 30 days after the first) is recommended.
  2. The flu vaccine is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age.  This is because young babies do not respond effectively enough to the flu vaccine.  Cocooning is recommended in that circumstance. Cocooning a baby means surrounding that baby with only immunized people.

8. Is it too late to get the flu vaccine?

Answer: No.  It is definitely not too late. There are likely 3 or more months left in this year’s influenza season. If not yet immunized, you and those around you still stand to benefit from getting vaccinated now.