TORONTO – It’s that time of year again – sick days, flu shots and trying to keep away from catching a cold over the holidays.
Each fall, Canadians head to flu vaccination clinics and roll up their sleeves to arm themselves against the season’s wave of influenza that typically arrives in November and lingers until March.
“Based on what we saw in the Southern Hemisphere, we should expect a moderate influenza season and we shouldn’t be seeing any significant problems,” according to Dr. Gerald Evans.
Evans is a Queen’s University medicine professor and chief of infectious diseases at Kingston General Hospital.
READ MORE: What to expect from this year’s flu season
“There’s no indication that we’re in for a bad flu season,” he said. But that still means that thousands of Canadians will be hospitalized for their symptoms and complications, he cautioned.
The flu season has already started, too, according to Canadian microbiologist and author Jason Tetro.
Now that we’re heading into the flu season, Global News asked experts for their tips on how to keep germs at bay.
Cover your mouth in public spaces
When you’re in a crowded environment, Tetro suggests taking a lesson from health care workers: wear a fashionable mask. Wrap a scarf around your neck, mouth and nose as you’re bundling up to head outdoors or onto public transportation.
“It’ll help to prevent droplets from getting into your system and looks far less ominous than a mask,” Tetro suggests.
Wash your hands for 30 seconds
During the enterovirus outbreak, Dr. B. Louise Giles insisted on reminding parents of the importance of thorough hand washing. This applies to the flu season, too.
“We know germs are on hands and with good hand washing – using soap and warm water – you’ll reduce the risk,” Giles, a Canadian doctor and pediatrician at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, explained.
Teach your kids to rinse their hands with soap for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ so they’re thoroughly washing up.
Soap and water work best but if you must, use anti-bacterial hand gel. “Anything you can do to wash hands is important, I don’t care how you wash your hands, just wash your hands,” Evans advised.
Cough and sneeze into your elbow
If you sneeze into the crease of your elbow, you’re less likely to transmit germs than you would if you cough into your hands, the experts say.
“People don’t have contact with that part of the body,” Evans explained. If you’re worried about germs staying on your clothing, don’t worry. The germs will likely absorb into the fabric and won’t be a concern.
Stay away, or stay home
Giles also reminds parents to be mindful of other families: if your child is sick, don’t send him or her to school. That extends to adults, too: last year, the Ontario Medical Association told Canadians to stay home if they’re under the weather and urged bosses to stop asking for sick notes.
Heading into work or the doctor’s office when you’re sick means you’re potentially infecting others.
If your child is sick, he or she could infect others who are more vulnerable, too. Their peers could be dealing with asthma or other underlying health conditions triggered by influenza.
If you’re heading to public spaces where germs could be at bay, it might even be worthwhile to keep your kids at home if they’re at high-risk of complications from a nasty bout of the flu.
Get your flu shot
The single best way to arm yourself against the flu is to head to the clinic, roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated.
At this point, Evans says that vaccination rates nationally sit at a meagre 20 to 25 per cent while health care workers report higher numbers at about 40 per cent.
Evans says that if at least 75 per cent of the public were to be immunized, “herd immunity” would occur. That means that even if a single person wasn’t vaccinated, if most of the people around them were, the risk of transmission would be very low.
He cautions that while most of us feel healthy, the flu shot has benefits that extend beyond our own immune systems.
“I’m a doctor and I get my shot every year so the likelihood of me getting the flu is reduced, and that means I’m unlikely to transmit to my family, my friends and to my patients that I see,” he said.
“It’s one of those things where it’s good for you, but it’s also good for everybody around you too.”
Kids as young as six months old can start getting the vaccine.
It’s also recommended for populations at risk of complications. These people who are more vulnerable include pregnant women, children under five years old, seniors and residents in long-term care or nursing homes.
Those with underlying health problems, such as chronic diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer) should also make their way to a flu vaccination clinic.
Evans suggests that getting the vaccine earlier helps. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be most effective, and its effects are long-lasting.
For more on the flu season, take a look at the government’s Flu Watch.
To read about flu prevention tips, take a look at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.