Flu vaccination clinics have been underway for weeks already, and according to Dr. Paul Martiquet, the medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, the take-up has been higher than usual.
"We're running a successful campaign for people who are coming in for their free flu shots," he said. The list of people who are eligible for free flu shots includes seniors, people with chronic diseases and their caregivers, some 20,000 people living in Sea to Sky and West Vancouver.
Usually about 70 per cent of eligible residents get the shot, but Martiquet said the goal is to get up to 80 per cent by the end of 2011.
Meanwhile, Martiquet said the start of flu season has been quiet. "So far we're having a light flu season, we're expecting it won't really start appearing until later in December — and by that time if you've had the vaccine you'll be immunized against it."
VCH monitors the flu season a number of ways, including reports from hospitals and health care providers and absentee rates from schools. Martiquet said when an absentee rate for a school is over 10 per cent they take notice, but that hasn't been seen in Sea to Sky so far this year.
"But it's early in the year," he cautioned. "What's going on is we are getting the respiratory viruses, the adenovirus and rhino viruses that are in circulation, there's no doubt about that — especially among school-aged kids."
The vaccine is tailor-made each year based on the types of flu strains that are circulating. Flu viruses that are active in the southern hemisphere during our summer months are usually the best indicator of what's in store for the northern hemisphere when winter comes around.
The current vaccine includes the H1N1 virus, a strain of swine flu out of Mexico and the H3N2 subtype of the Influenza A virus.
"We're pretty confident that the components in the vaccine this year will be what appears in our flu season," said Martiquet.
To avoid the flu, VCH recommends frequent hand washing. Covering your sneezes and coughs can also help to prevent illnesses from spreading. For information on clinics and avoiding the flu, visit www.vch.ca and follow the link for "Flu Shots."
Although VCH declared the recent mumps outbreak over more than a month ago after a last case was reported in West Vancouver, they also aren't taking any chances this year. Mumps vaccination clinics have already taken place for first-year resort workers.
"We're providing them free of charge to anybody who isn't sure whether they've had two doses or not," said Martiquet. "We don't want to see the mumps return."
The secondary vaccinations were recommended for anybody who was vaccinated after 1970, when the vaccination changed. The newer vaccination has a tendency to wear off, requiring a booster shot.
Mumps is also spread through saliva, prompting VCH to warn young people against sharing drinks, cigarettes and anything where saliva could be exchanged.