Influenza (the “flu”) is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms include sudden onset of headache, chills and cough followed by a fever, appetite loss, muscle aches and tiredness. For more information on the disease, see the health unit's fact sheet on "Cold vs. Flu".
Influenza vaccination (the “flu shot”) is recommended and provided for free for all Ontario residents over 6 months of age though the Universal Influenza Immunization Program (UIIP). A flu shot is required every year to remain protected because the virus is constantly changing and because the body’s immune protection declines over time. For more information on flu shot clinics, see the health unit’s website on the flu shot.
Burden of Illness:
Influenza and pneumonia are often treated as a combined category because influenza is a major cause of pneumonia but this can be difficult to confirm. It is estimated that influenza and community-acquired pneumonia account for 60,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 deaths every year in Ontario. Locally, influenza and pnuemonia were responsible for nearly 400 deaths in Simcoe Muskoka between 2007 and 2012. These diseases were the tenth leading cause of death during that time period. For more information on deaths, see the HealthSTATS page on Leading Causes of Death. For more information on the number of influenza cases in Simcoe Muskoka, see the HealthSTATS page on influenza.
Recent research has showed that Ontario’s universal influenza immunization program significantly reduced the number of deaths, influenza/pneumonia-related hospitalizations, emergency department visits and physician visits compared to the vaccine programs in other Canadian provinces. This provides evidence that the flu shot not only protect individuals, but it also reduces a significant burden on the health care system.
Figure 1 below shows the percentage of the Simcoe Muskoka population (over 18 years old) that received a seasonal flu shot from the 2005-06 flu season to the 2015-16 flu season. Approximately 40% of the adult population receive a seasonal flu shot, with the exception of the pandemic flu season in 2009-10 when the coverage dropped to approximately 20% for the seasonal flu shot. A pandemic flu vaccine was also offered to the public for which the coverage was approximately 35%. These two vaccines prevented different strains of flu viruses.
Flu shot coverage varies significantly by age group. A significantly higher percentage of people aged 65 years and older get vaccinated compared to those 18 to 64 years old. A higher percentage of people with chronic conditions get vaccinated compared to those without chronic conditions. Those with lower household income and non-smokers also have higher influenza vaccine coverage (see RRFSS Influenza Immunization Risk Factor Report).