As of March 6, less than 20 per cent of Manitobans had received the flu shot, according to the Manitoba Influenza Surveillance Report.
The immunization numbers are staggeringly low and Dr. Sandra Allison, medical officer of health in Brandon, would like to see more people get the shot.
“We are seeing a trend toward less use of the vaccine,” Allison said. “It is low and I would like to see 60 per cent or more get vaccinated.”
Allison isn’t sure what the exact causes for the decline in immunization are. She said the past two years, prior to this one, have been mild influenza seasons and that may have played a role in people’s decision to get the shot or not.
“This year might have felt like a more severe year, but it was what we would expect on average,” Allison said.
Each year, experts try to predict which strains of influenza to protect the general public from, choosing two strains of flu A — a highly erratic and evolving flu — and one strain of flu B, which has a more stable DNA makeup.
“They are trying to make a forecast and this year we saw a very good match between one of the strains of A that was going around,” Allison said.
That match meant people who got the vaccine had a much greater chance of not getting that strain of the flu and in the case they did get that flu, a better chance of developing the antibodies to fight the illness.
As of the beginning of March, there had been 550 reported cases of influenza A in the province compared to just 48 cases of influenza B, with most reports of the flu coming in January.
“The numbers are trailing downward and we feel we are very close to the end of our respiratory illness season,” Allison said.
Of the 20 per cent that did get vaccinated, many are health care workers at a higher risk to contract the illness.
In the Prairie Mountain Health region, 10 long-term care facilities experienced an outbreak of influenza. Allison said it’s not uncommon to see outbreaks in long-term care facilities as there were 41 outbreaks in facilities across the province.
“We see outbreaks in our personal care homes every year and we have protocols to manage them. We work hard to decrease transmission between clients and provide the medication needed to stop the spread.”
There is one thing that Allison tells everyone wishing to avoid a bout of flu.
“Hand wash. Hand wash. Hand wash. It’s very important.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2013