December 03, 2008

Proper etiquette helps fight the flu

As published in The Erin Advocate

Now that the flu season is upon us, are you following the proper etiquette for coughing and sneezing?

From a young age, we are trained to cover our mouths, to avoid spraying germ-laden water droplets into the air. When we cough or sneeze into our hands, however, we then spread germs when we touch doorknobs, phones and computer keyboards.

Public health officials are campaigning to re-train everyone to cough or sneeze into their upper sleeves, if no tissue is available, and to wash their hands if they forget.

The Ontario Ministry of Health runs a website called, where you can get information, and see an instructional video on sleeve-coughing.

Are you following the ministry guideline of washing your hands properly, at least five times a day? It is not rocket science, but it can be difficult to get into the habit: 15 seconds of lathering with soap, rinsing with warm water, then a thorough drying. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoiding the flu is important, even for generally healthy people who could easily withstand a bout of it. There is the risk that you could transmit the virus to someone who is more vulnerable.

“The most effective way to protect yourself from flu is to be vaccinated yearly,” said Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Nicola Mercer.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is hosting a Flu Clinic next Tuesday, November 9, from 3 pm to 7 pm, at Centre 2000. It is a walk-in clinic only – no appointments.

Flu shots are free to everyone in Ontario who wants one, a policy that has saved lives, especially among the elderly. Flu immunization decreases physician visits, hospitalization and the incidence of pneumonia.

Free flu shots are also available from your family doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, and cannot make it to the Erin clinic, call the health unit at 1-800-265-7293, ext. 4624, to book an appointment in Guelph, Fergus, Orangeville or Shelburne.

A new formula for the vaccine is created each year, so people need to be re-vaccinated. It takes about two weeks for the protection to take effect. You can still catch the disease, but it is likely to be less severe if you have had the shot. The vaccine does not contain any live virus, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot.

The only people who should not get the shot are children under six months of age, people allergic to eggs, and those who have had a serious reaction to a previous flu vaccine. It is most beneficial to those at risk of complications if they get the flu: young children, pregnant women, those over 65 and those with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Some people do not like getting a needle. There is a nasal spray flu vaccine, but it is not available in Canada, said Susan Otten, manager of the local immunization program. She suggests that three seconds of discomfort with a flu shot is better than three weeks in bed with the flu. Anti-viral medication for those with the flu is usually held in reserve to fight serious outbreaks, she said.

Some are concerned about possible side effects. Mild seffects such as swelling at the injection spot are rare. Cases of red eyes with respiratory distress are extremely rare. Also extremely rare, with an uncertain connection to the flu shot, are cases of a nerve disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). The risk of illness and death due to influenza is far greater than the risk of serious side effects.

Some do not trust the mainstream advice of doctors, and consider the flu shot an overly-aggressive intrusion into the immune system. They may turn to alternative treatments, such as those offered by Homeopath Stephanie Marwood, through the Kulhay Wellness Centre, at 165 Main Street in Erin – (519) 833-0031.

She is offering free treatments with Influenzinum, a oral remedy that is an extreme dilution of this year’s regular flu vaccine. It does not contain the material substance of the vaccine, just its healing energy and essence, she said. Manufacturer Homeocan says it can help prevent flu and its symptoms, but like the regular flu shot, there are no guarantees.

“It works with the energy of the body,” said Marwood. “It is very gentle and there are no side effects.”

I do not know if the homeopathic method is effective – I would probably be too skeptical to benefit from it. However, I do believe that people have a right to make choices, and the responsibility to educate themselves, when it comes to health care.