When patients of Dr. Christopher J. Peddle of the Trinity Conception Medical Associates clinic in Carbonear ask why they should get the "flu shot," the answer is not what many would think.
"I swear by it," he told a Compass reporter on Nov. 19 after finishing up with the day's patients. "I look at it as health insurance - just improving your odds."
So far this year Peddle has administered hundreds of flu vaccines, and has received one himself. In fact, he has been doing so since 1997, when he began working as a general practitioner.
Peddle said there appears to be an increase in the number of people who have received the flu shot since 1997, but he would like to see it increase even more.
"A vast majority of people benefit from the influenza vaccine," he explained. "There's compelling evidence that everyone from five to 64 should get it, even healthy individuals."
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador released an influenza report earlier this year highlighting the number of confirmed cases in the province for the 2013-14 flu season. Over 350 cases were confirmed through laboratory testing. There were 12 deaths.
Flu vs. cold
The influenza vaccine is trivalent, meaning it contains three strains of virus. What many don't know is the virus is deactivated, or split, so the person receiving it doesn't get the flu.
Peddle confirmed there have been cases where people have experienced symptoms after receiving the influenza vaccine, but it doesn't mean they have the flu.
"It is cough and cold season now," he said. "The strains of viruses are inactive. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot."
It is common to hear people say, "I have the flu," when referring to a cold. The federal government has identified a list of symptoms associated with the flu to better distinguish between the two illnesses.
One of the most prominent symptoms is fever - usually 102 F to 104 F. Headache is often present, and general aches and pains are common. Something that is more often associated with a cold, rather than the flu, is sneezing.
Peddle noted two symptoms common to influenza are the achy muscles and fatigue. Symptoms can last seven to 10 days, but some experience them for an extended period of time.
On average, some 3,500 people die annually from the flu in Canada, with some 12,200 visiting hospitals for treatment. Many of those at risk are children from the age of six months to five years, people 65 years and over, and those with cardiovascular problems, such as obstructive lung disease, which could exacerbate symptoms.
Not all want the shot
Bay Roberts resident Deanne Dawe has never received the flu shot, and doesn't plan on it.
"I think it should be a personal preference," she explained.
In Newfoundland, the flu shot is not mandatory for anyone. But in Vancouver, the deadline to get a flu shot if you work in healthcare is Dec. 1. Those that don't get it must wear a mask when working with patients. One person has been fired since 2012 for refusing to do either.
Dawe believes people working in hospitals or old age homes should be encouraged to get the shot, not forced.
"Even as a healthy person, I don't even know if I'd get it if I was working there," she said. "I know that when I do get sick, I stay away from people."
Although Peddle recommends everyone get the shot, Dawe feels she's not sick often, so getting the vaccination isn't necessary for her.
"I'm not for it, but I'm not against it. But if it's not broken, don't fix it," she explained.
Peddle said he issues flu vaccines to people each year who have never received them before, sometimes because they catch the flu the previous year.
But even after recently having pneumonia, which is a complication that can come from the flu virus, Dawe still isn't interested in the vaccine. She believes her eating habits and lifestyle choices have worked for her so far, so she'll continue the same path.
"Every one of my meals has a salad in it. I steam all my vegetables. I take probiotics on a regular basis," she said. "I don't drink cow's milk and I don't eat a whole lot of dairy. I also try not to eat as much meat."
Dawe catches her own fish, her boyfriend hunts moose and she buys her fruits and vegetables locally.
Getting your vaccine
Traditionally, a person had to visit their doctor to get the vaccine. This year, individual health boards offered public clinics across the province, including Eastern Health and Western Health.
Another new addition to the influenza vaccination program in this province is for trained pharmacists to administer it. Peddle sees no issue with that.
"If it increases the overall level of vaccination, I see no problem," he said, noting some of his regular patients received their shots from the pharmacists at the pharmacy located next to his office.
There are people that Peddle believes should not get the shot, like those who have had a severe allergic reaction to it in the past. Some with certain allergies can still take it.
"It's OK to give someone with an egg allergy the vaccine," he said. "Incidents are extremely low or non-existent."
The vaccine often comes in a vial, but now is available in single dose syringes. There is also a nasal spray available in some places across Canada called FluMist, but is not publicly funded by all jurisdictions. It is recommended for children, more so that adults.
Flu season is typically between early November and late February in Canada, and vaccinations are available from your healthcare provider and some pharmacies across the province.
For more information on the influenza vaccine, visit http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/naci-ccni/ or contact your family physician.