Here’s a list of questions you may have about the flu shot and this year's flu season, but were too embarrassed to ask.
1) Does the flu shot hurt?
Most health professionals say the flu shot doesn’t hurt any more than a typical vaccine. Some people may experience a little soreness around the injection site or feel a bit achy afterwards, but that should pass within 24 hours, says University of Calgary medical microbiologist Dr. Glen Armstrong.
2) Will the flu shot make me sick?
No, says Dr. Armstrong.
“If you have those sort of mild, flu-like symptoms because you got the shot, it’s generally an indication that your body is really starting to react strongly to the virus – so when the real McCoy comes along later, you’re probably not going to get sick at all.”
“Some people still have the mis-notion that ‘I get the flu vaccine every year and I get really sick‘ – it has no capacity to cause illness, it’s an inactivated virus,” says pharmacist Mo Elsalhy.
3) Why is everyone so scared about flu in Alberta this year?
Five people have died from the flu this year already, causing many to worry. H1N1 is one of the dominant strains hitting people this winter, and is known to strike healthy adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
4) Why is the flu worse this year in particular?
It could be due to fewer people getting flu shots over the past few years, creating a larger group of people capable of carrying the virus and passing it on.
“We’re getting more cases this year than we have in the past,” says Dr. Armstrong. “It may be because we've had a bit of a holiday over the past couple of years and people have become complacent ‘it’s not big deal, I don’t need to get vaccinated.’ But now we’re paying the price for that complacency.”
5) I was vaccinated for H1N1 in 2009. That should keep me safe, right?
Wrong. Strains can change each year, so health professionals recommend you get your vaccination every year.
6) What are the symptoms of H1N1?
HIN1 is a respiratory infection that can cause a sudden onset of fever and headache followed by fatigue and muscle pain, says Dr. Martin Lavoie, Alberta's deputy chief medical officer of health.
Complications – including cardiac and respiratory problems and pneumonia – can develop in some cases, he added.
7) My kid is scared of needles – what can I do?
There's a vaccine nasal spray available as an alternative.
8) Is my child too young to get immunized?
Health officials say young children can and should be immunized (although children under 9 in Alberta cannot be immunized at a pharmacy). Your family doctor can talk to you about the best option.
9) Can pregnant women be immunized?
“The best advice for pregnant women is to consult their physician,” said Dr. Armstrong.
“The best advice … [is] to contact their family physician who knows their history best and would be in the best position to advise them whether they get vaccinated with the injectable-type flu or the inhaled-type vaccine.”
10) Where can I get the shot?
The Alberta Health Services website has a list of free flu shot clinics in the city. You can also get the shot at a doctor’s office or pharmacy – but call ahead first to make sure they still have a supply of the vaccine.