As flu season is now in full swing, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, British Columbia, will see an increased number of patients wanting to receive a flu vaccination.

Flu season typically runs from November through April (however, outbreaks can happen as early as October and last as late as May) and results in the hospitalization of as many as 12,000 Canadians every year. While most individuals will recover from the flu without needing to seek any kind of urgent medical attention, there are certain individuals who are at risk of developing serious flu-related complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. High-risk individuals include seniors over the age of 65, those under the age of 65 with a previously diagnosed chronic condition, those with weakened immune systems, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, and healthcare providers such as nurses and doctors.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that affects the lungs, throat and nose, and can easily be passed from person to person. Those suffering from the flu can experience a wide range of symptoms including a sudden onset of cough or fever, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a decreased appetite, and overall body aches. All of these symptoms can be severe, whereas symptoms of the common cold are usually mild in comparison.

Flu strains also change from year to year; thus, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends anyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated against the flu each year. The flu vaccine works by creating antibodies that provide protection against and subdue strains of influenza. It is important to note that it typically takes up to 2 weeks for the antibodies to form and the flu shot to take full effect, therefore if you are exposed to the flu within that time frame you may still be at risk of developing the flu. If you have an egg allergy or are allergic to any of the ingredients found in the flu vaccination such as gelatin, you should avoid getting a flu vaccine and take alternative preventative measures against the flu. Garlic works well to boost the immune system and is known for its antibacterial properties, in addition to other nutrient-dense foods such as carrots, squash, broccoli, and kale, and proteins such as skinless chicken, turkey and beef. Regular exercise (2.5 hours each week) is also beneficial in playing a key role against developing illness.