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Courtesy: Government of Canada

Flu season: Three reasons this one threatens to be worse than last year

Katie Jones
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:42 AM - Sniffling, sneezing, coughing. It's beginning to look  and sound  a lot like flu season. And we're in for a doozy, according to the latest from Public Health Ontario. Here are three reasons this flu season threatens to be the worst Canadians have seen in a while.

3. A mismatched vaccine  

The current vaccine is a close, but not exact match, with the most common strain of influenza circulating this season, Health officials say. Vaccines for the seasonal flu are prepared months in advance of immunization. A lot can happen from the time vaccines are created to when they are distributed to the public.  The influenza vaccine is made using subtypes of both the A and B flu strains. But, if either of those strains change from one season to the next, the vaccine becomes less effective at fighting the virus.

2.  The vaccine is less effective

A successful match between a vaccine and the current state of the virus means that those who are immunized can expect a 60-per-cent prevention rate, based on previous seasons. However, if strains in the vaccine do not match up with the type of flu going around, the effectiveness drops to about 40 per cent. Health officials still insist that the flu shot provides a better defense against the virus than not getting immunized. "You should still get a flu shot if you haven’t had one," said Dr. David Mowat, Ontario’s top public health officer. "It’s the single best thing you can do to keep yourself and other people healthy."

RELATED: CDC:  U.S. flu vaccine less effective this year

1.  The name of the strain

H3N2/Texas. It's the most common type of influenza affecting Canadians this year. This version tends to pack a big, nasty punch, leading to more severe illness, especially among the elderly. At least a dozen people have died from the virus so far this season, with more than 100 hospitalized.

Fast facts about the flu:

  • Flu season typically lasts from November to April.  
  • Influenza affects approximately 10 per cent of the Canadian population.
  • According to the National Advisory Committee on Influenza (NACI), the flu leads to about 3,500 deaths and the hospitalization of over 12,000 people in Canada each year.
  • Those at greater risk if they do contract the flu include people with existing medical conditions, the elderly, pregnant women, and infants and children.
  • Prevention, including getting the vaccine, is key.  Washing hands, avoiding those who are sick, and staying home if you feel ill can help prevent the virus from spreading.

Symptoms of the influenza virus:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue

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