Influenza – the flu

Influenza is commonly referred to as the flu. It is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that affects the nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is easily passed from person to person.
  • Seasonal influenza is the annual influenza that affects people in Canada during the winter, typically between November and April.
    • You can get influenza at any time, even in summer, but it is most common in the colder months.
  • Seasonal influenza viruses change slightly from year to year.
  • Various strains of influenza virus circulate throughout the world each year and new strains can emerge and spread.
  • Most healthy people are able to recover from influenza without severe complications.
  • Antibiotics do not work against the influenza virus or any other virus. Antiviral medications may be used for treatment or prevention of influenza.

Influenza lowers the body’s ability to fight other infections. It can lead to bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, and even death especially in the elderly, children (6–59 months), pregnant women, indigenous people, and people with chronic medical conditions.

Alberta’s 2017/18 influenza immunization program

One of the best ways to prevent seasonal influenza is through yearly immunization because the influenza virus changes each year.

As part of Alberta's influenza immunization program, Albertans 6 months of age and older are able to receive influenza vaccine, free of charge, at public health clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

Vaccines

Alberta Health is offering Albertans one type of influenza vaccine free of charge. This vaccine, called Fluzone, is offered as an injection, contains 4 strains of influenza virus and is a safe and effective vaccine for all ages.

Having multiple types of vaccines increases the complexity of our immunization program. Offering one type of vaccine to Albertans at mass public clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices means we can offer a more efficient program where vaccine is available for everyone across the province when clinics open.

FluMist

Alberta Health will not offer FluMist (the nasal spray) this season. In previous years, FluMist had been available for children between the ages of 2 and 17.

  • In 2016, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization removed its preferential recommendation for FluMist for children 2–17 years of age. The committee concluded that FluMist and injectable vaccines are equally safe and effective for children.

FLUAD

FLUAD is an influenza vaccine designed to boost the immune response in seniors. This year, FLUAD will not be available at public health clinics. Seniors living in long term care or supportive living will continue to be offered FLUAD free of charge.

  • This aligns with recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The committee recommends either FLUAD or a regular four-strain vaccine for seniors.
  • Some pharmacists may choose to offer FLUAD to Albertans age 65 and older at a cost. Seniors who wish to be immunized with FLUAD can contact their pharmacies for more information.

Vaccine effectiveness

  • In 2016/17, Canadian estimates on vaccine effectiveness show vaccine was 42% effective against the dominant strain, H3N2.
    • This is slightly lower than in 2015/16 when the vaccine was 50% effective and the dominant strain of influenza was H1N1. Vaccine effectiveness is often lower against H3N2 strains of influenza, so this could explain why the vaccine was less effective.
    • Even with an effectiveness rating of 42%, immunization is the best way for Albertans to protect themselves and others against influenza.

Vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year but immunization is still the best protection. We do not know how effective this year’s vaccine will be, but we do know that not being immunized offers no protection.

Influenza in Alberta facts

  • Alberta has purchased 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2017/18 season. This is enough to immunize 35% of the population.
    • Total cost: $12.1 million.
  • In 2016/17, Alberta Health purchased 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine.
    • Total cost: $12.7 million
    • 27% of Albertans (roughly 1.1 million people) received the influenza vaccine
    • 64 people died and had lab-confirmed influenza
    • 1,653 Albertans were admitted to hospital with lab-confirmed influenza.
  • Alberta has offered universal influenza immunization free of charge to residents since 2009.
  • The program before 2009 targeted those most at risk of disease and complications.

Yearly influenza immunization rates

  • 2016/17 – 27.0% (more influenza data is available on the Alberta Health Services influenza website)
  • 2015/16 – 27.0%
  • 2014/15 – 30.0%
  • 2013/14 – 27.6%
  • 2012/13 – 23.0%
  • 2011/12 – 22.5%
  • 2010/11 – 22.0%

Every year we hope to see more Albertans get immunized, and we encourage all Albertans age 6 months and older to be immunized when vaccine is available.

Health care worker immunization

Healthcare workers are strongly encouraged to get immunized. The proportion of health care workers getting vaccinated against influenza in 2016/17 was 63%, compared to 61% in 2015/16.

Alberta has a voluntary immunization policy for healthcare workers, and are focused on education, promotion, and making it as easy as possible for health care workers to get immunized.