With the start of a new year, many of us make resolutions to improve our health. One of the best ways to ensure a positive start to the new year is by getting the flu vaccine. Although it may seem too late to get a flu shot, flu season usually peaks at this time of the year and can last as late as April or May. Getting vaccinated now can still protect you, and those under your care, against the flu, so you can start 2018 on the right foot.
It’s (still) flu season
The holiday season may have passed, but flu season is in full swing which means that as a caregiver, you should be particularly vigilant during this time. Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of those they look after—so what happens if you get sick?
When caregivers fall ill, care routines are disrupted, creating a stressful situation for the person being cared for and the caregiver alike. Caregivers—both paid and unpaid—must look after their own health as well as the health of others.
Protect those you care for
In some cases, the flu can be very serious. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, influenza causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year.
It is of particular concern for adults aged 65 and over. Of the flu-related deaths last year, 88 per cent of the individuals were in this age group. Older adults also accounted for 67 per cent of all flu-related hospitalizations.
Those you are caring for may fall into other high-risk groups, regardless of age, such as individuals with chronic health conditions, as well as those who are residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.
And when you consider that three out of four persons aged 65 and older have at least one chronic health condition like cardiac issues, pulmonary disorders, diabetes or cancer, that’s a large portion of our Canadian population put at an even higher risk of suffering from flu-related complications.
Defend yourself against the flu
The flu is a different experience for everyone; for some, it can be devastating. Getting the vaccine not only means that you are greatly reducing the risk of becoming ill yourself, it also helps protect others. This is of particular concern knowing that flu viruses are easily spread, especially in hospitals, long-term care and assisted living facilities where those you care for may live or visit.
Even if you received the flu shot last year, you should still get vaccinated this year. Flu strains can change from year to year and the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases over time. Vaccination protects against three to four types of viruses, which means that even when it is less effective against one strain, it can still provide protection against the remaining ones.
Prevent the spread
As a caregiver, you may have years of experience, and perhaps professional training, in understanding the precautions you should take to provide safe physical and emotional support to those in need. One such precaution is wearing gloves and a mask when caring for someone with flu symptoms.
Other flu prevention practices include:
• Thorough and frequent handwashing
• Regular cleaning and disinfecting of shared surfaces and objects
• Staying home if you’re feeling ill
The stress of caring for a sick or aging parent or relative can weaken your own immune system. This increases your own risk for illness and is especially true during flu season. So, don’t forget about caring for yourself. If you’re unable to provide support for those you care for due to sickness, consider adult day services or respite care as a temporary solution. You’ll be protecting not only yourself, but potentially many others.
No one wants to be away from family, friends or work because of illness. Get vaccinated and enable yourself and others to remain healthy through this season and the next. To find out where you can get your flu shot, talk to your healthcare provider or use the online locator to find the clinic nearest to you.
For more information, go to Canada.ca/Flu.