Monday, September 20

Coming Soon To Germy Hands Near You: Flu Season 2010

First up, I must clarify that this post was inspired by an event I recently attended where they (the PR Firm Edelman) didn't set any expectation as to what they wanted in return for free latte, free babysitting, a chance to quiz celebrity doctors Dr. Marla Shapiro and Dr. David Greenberg, plus lots of well researched information, but as luck with have it, the topic did inspire me.

Now that I have that out of the way, let's talk about *cue sinister music* THE FLU.

I really shouldn't make light. Last year's flu season was nasty, scary, and frankly downright confusing. Flu and H1N1 chatter was everywhere and one minute people were screaming 'GET THEE INTO THESE LOOOOOOONG LINES TO BE JABBED', and the next moment the same harbingers of ill are saying 'those shots don't work for *this* flu or *that* flu and you need two shots, or one shot, or I'm just going to fill you with misinformation blah blah blah.'

My head spun around and I swear that my husband and I debated the flu-shot question for the entire season. For the record: we did not get the shots but I did pull my girl out of school for almost a week when her classmates looked particularly droopy and drippy. This was an option in JK but if she had been in grade school? I'm not sure it would have been that easy a choice. Also FTR: it's hard for me to admit that I took health concerns lightly so please don't attack my choices, I'm being open and honest here.

So why didn't I force my family to get the shots? In no particular order, here are the reasons:
  • My kid hates needles (not a real reason because she is immunized but…)
  • There was too much confusion and misinformation and I'm suspicious of media at the best of times. I didn't understand how they could be protecting against a flu strain before it strikes (more on that later.)
  • Ignorance is bliss
Will we be sticking our heads in the sand and rubbing our lucky stones again this year? No. We were lucky that no one got sick during a particularly virulent year and nasty strain. We had a friend who contracted H1N1, we read about the children who died, we were struck hard when the reports about the flu deaths of elderly and babies hit the news. I hate fear mongering but the flu is serious business and it does strike Canadians down. So I feel better being a spreader of facts because knowledge is powerful and here are some cold, hard facts:
  • Influenza spreads through droplets from someone with the flu, who coughs or sneezes into the air 1*. Therefore wearing a mask does not help like it did with SARS, the flu isn't turned off by no stinkin' mask, those f'ing germs will go right through a mask.
  • Infection is spread when these droplets are breathed in via the mouth or nose or eyes (ew). 2*
  • The flu is often transferred via the hands and on surfaces those germy hands have touched 3*. Teach children (and lazy adults) to wash hands properly: warm water, soap, and sing Happy Birthday while rubbing those germs away yo.
  • Influenza remains the most common vaccine-preventable disease in the developed world 4* and in Canada, an estimated 10 to 25% could contract the flu any given year 5*, and based on our population that it a whole lot of sick people.
And like I said earlier, since I can't seal my family into hermetically sealed plastic bubbles with their own clean air supply, we will be getting protected this year which brings me back to my confusion about how Health Canada knows which flu strains to fight each year. How do they know?

In a nutshell: WHO identifies which top three strains are most likely to strike based on data collected from observing countries like Australia who start their flu season earlier than North America and Europe. Then they add the vaccines for these three strains to create the flu shot for the year which obviously means they can predict it incorrectly but hey, it's the best bet we can get. Some years it's partially correct, some years it's completely wrong, and some years it hits the target but at least the steps for prevention are in place.

So why did Edelman invite me to have an informal chat with Dr. Marla Shapiro and Dr. David Greenburg about the flu? New product of course! This year there is a new alternative to the flu shot that is finally available in Canada: FluMist. Up the nose with a rubber hose.. er… I mean plunger. For a parent of a child who goes absolutely ape-shit when the word 'needle' is uttered in her presence (no really, she is to needles as I am to clowns: terrified), having a non-needle but equally effective treatment is awesome. But here's the thing: you need to pay for it because OHIP (or your provincial plan) won't. Yet. But it's not that expensive (probably around $20 depending on pharmacy mark-up) and you can get it yourself, without a prescription so you can have your doctor or nurse administer it. This is important, it must be given by a health care professional. It's a suitable and effective flu-shot alternative for ages 2 through 59 and this is what my daughter will be getting this year.

Anyhow. The evening was very informative and I could go on much longer because there was a lot of great questions posed by the group but I'll spare you more germ and vaccine facts for now. If you have questions, please ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them or point you to more information.

Thank you to Drs. Marla Shapiro and Dave Greenberg for the most interesting coffee clutch I've attended in a while and a huge thank you to Lil' Bean n' Green cafe n' play spot on Queen East for entertaining my child in such an amazing space. We are definitely coming back for another play date.

At least this year I won't feel so confused when the harbingers of flu-confusion start spouting off.


I has footnotes:
1* 2* 3* 5* Health Canada. Influenza (the “flu”).  Accessed August 12, 2010.

4* AstraZeneca Annual Report 2009. Influenza virus. Accessed August 4, 2010.

I has FluMist facts:
  • The influenza virus strains in FluMist are the same virus strains as those contained in the flu shot. The vaccine contains the strains recommended by the World Health Organization (northern hemisphere) for this influenza season. 1
  • FluMist is the first intranasal influenza vaccine to be approved by Health Canada for protection against seasonal flu. This is the first time that FluMist is available in Canada, although FluMist has been used in the United States since 2003.
  • FluMist is a gentle mist sprayed into the nose, one of the places where the influenza virus can enter the body.1 Those receiving the vaccine can breathe normally while FluMist is being given, and there is no need to actually inhale or sniff. 1
  • FluMist uses live virus strains that are weakened so as not to cause the flu. 1
  • FluMist is a safe12 and effective11h, 3 option to prevent seasonal flu, and clinical trials have demonstrated that in children ages two to 17, FluMist significantly reduced the number of influenza cases compared to the traditional flu shot 1 :
  • In children two to five years of age, FluMist significantly reduced the number of influenza cases by more than 50 per cent, compared to the injectable vaccine. 2
  • Clinical studies have shown that, compared to the injectable vaccine, FluMist demonstrates greater effectiveness against matched and mismatched strains in children two to 17 years of age and guards against late outbreaks of infection. 2, 3,4,
  • Like all vaccines, FluMist can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them. The most common side effect seen in clinical trials is nasal congestion in recipients of all ages. 1
More footnotes:

1 Flumist Product Monograph, 2010.
2 Belshe RB, et al. New England Journal of Medicine, 2007; 356:685-696.
3 Fleming DM, Crovari P, Wahn U, et al. Comparison of the efficacy and safety of live attenuated cold-adapted influenza vaccine, trivalent, with trivalent inactivated influenza virus vaccine in children and adolescents with asthma. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2006; 25 (10): 860-869.
4 Ashkenazi S, Vertruyen A, Aristegui J, et al. Superior relative efficacy of live attenuated influenza vaccine compared with inactivated influenza vaccine in young children with recurrent respiratory tract infections. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2006 ;25(10): 870-879.


Kyla said...

I'm so glad to read an informed post on flu vaccines! :) There is entirely too much misinformation about immunizations out there.

We've had FluMist a while, but KayTar can't get it because she has a history of wheezing. FluMist is a no-no for wheezers.

motherbumper said...

@ Kyla: Yes! They did say it was a no-go for those with breathing issues, thank you Dr. Kyla ;) Also those with a history of allergy to eggs, asthma, plus other issues like immune deficiency.