Sudbury is currently listed as one of the top five markets in Canada with children affected with cold, flu or respiratory symptoms, according to the Flu Alert Network (Fan) Report.
The report was released last week by IMS Health, a leading provider of information, services and technology for the health-care industry, according to its website. The report is a comprehensive respiratory illness tracker, and it has put Sudbury on its pre-alert list due to a significant increase in cold and flu symptoms in the city.
More than 10,567 people in Sudbury have shown symptoms such as cough, fever, nasal or sore throat, and it's expected to rise over the next three to five weeks as the flu season settles in.
“It just seems Sudbury has a type of the virus that is more communicable among children,” said Tracey Phillips, vice-president of Pharmacy for Rexall. “Whether it's spreading in schools or daycares, it just means more children are contracting the flu virus than in other markets.”
It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with lifestyle choices, she said.
“We know that, as viruses spread, they change and there are different levels of virulence, depending on where you go, so it could have something to do with that,” Phillips said. “It could even be because Sudbury has had more community events where children have visited and there has been more communication.”
Phillips said she isn't sure what the number is that would elevate Sudbury from pre-alert status to alert status, but she did say it could happen “reasonably quickly.”
Now that Sudbury is at the pre-alert status, residents have a chance to take some precautions and preventative measures to ensure they don't get flu symptoms.
Of course, there are a number of ways for Sudburians to stay flu-free. Getting the flu shot tops the list, Phillips said. While doctors recommend getting the flu shot every year, in 2011, only 30 per cent of Canadians actually got a shot.
It's a deactivated virus, so those who get the flu shot can't get the flu from it, Phillips said. However, it's very common for those who get the shot to develop a very mild fever after any kind of vaccination.
“Sometimes, people misinterpret that low-grade fever for actually contracting a cold or the flu from the vaccine, but it's the body's normal reaction,” she said. “It's easily treated with Tylenol, and it only lasts a day, so there's really no reason for people not to get the flu shot.”
The flu shot is also a good idea, because it helps to “exercise” your immune system, she said. That way, no matter what virus you come into contact with, your immune system is used to being reactive, and it can adapt to build an immunity to whatever that virus might be.
Another benefit to getting the flu shot is that, by not being a virus carrier, those who are vaccinated won't be giving it to other people who might be at a higher risk, such as children or people with other health concerns like heart disease or diabetes.
Now that pharmacists are being trained to administer the flu shot, it's making it easier for all Canadians to get it, she said. Rexall, for example, is able to give the flu shot any time of the day at all of its stores in Sudbury. No appointment is necessary.
In fact, more than 700 Rexall pharmacists in the province have been trained to give the flu shot, Phillips said. While pharmacists were surprised at how quickly the province announced it was adding the responsibility to pharmacists, it doesn't mean pharmacists weren't prepared.
“Our regulatory college, as well as our provincial association, has been collaborating with government for many years to expand the scope of practice in many areas, and the flu shot is just one of many,” Phillips said. “We had no idea until very recently that the province would announce pharmacists would be able to participate in the flu program, but we did know in advance that we would need other training to provide other services.
“At Rexall, we've been working to ensure all of our pharmacists at all of our locations were trained and able to provide this valuable service. Every pharmacy is able to participate in the program, but whether every single pharmacy in Sudbury was able to prepare and apply to the ministry is a different issue that I can't speak to. What I can say is that Rexall is one of the few pharmacies where people can come in at any time of the day for a flu shot.”