A few days ago, I was confronted by a septuagenarian who seemed rather miffed about something and obviously wanted to share her gripe with me.  It turns out that a friend of hers had somehow received the flu shot and yet still ended up getting the flu.  What good would it be to get a vaccine if it didn’t work?!

It took a few minutes but we discussed her friend’s illness and the progression and soon enough it was clear that her friend hadn’t caught the flu after all.  The symptoms didn’t match and the timeline was definitely shorter than that of the flu.  With a little more questioning, this time from me, it became clear that her friend had caught the infection from some young children and that most likely (although without laboratory confirmation it couldn’t be certain) it was Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV for short.

The next question was from her:  Why didn’t she or her friend know about this virus?

Almost ironically, later that evening, my good friends at CTV Ottawa reported that sure enough, it’s peak cold and flu season and that RSV is one of the viruses that can affect almost anyone.

After the story ran, I thought about how many people believe that they are immune from all illness after receiving the flu shot and as a result forgo regular hygiene.  I wouldn’t blame them; the news is continually focusing on the flu and the influenzavirus but it’s a rare event to see some of the other viruses that can cause illness make the headlines.  And kudos to CTV Ottawa for doing just that!

A look at the Respiratory Virus Detections/Isolations in Canada, a weekly report released by the Public Health Agency of Canada, reveals several of the viruses that could be caught. There’s influenzaviruses, as expected, and RSV, but also rhinoviruses, coronaviruses adenoviruses, metapneumoviruses, and parainfluenzaviruses.  Each one of these viruses has a seasonal spread pattern and can afflict almost anyone, independent of age.

Luckily, most of these viruses only cause mild symptoms and have little risk of developing complications.  They last between one to two weeks and usually cause a loss of productivity rather than life energy.  These viruses require no antibiotics and are normally treated with over the counter medications, liquids and rest.  Yet for anyone who might not be aware of the presence of these viruses, a normally short lived annoyance can end up being a rather fearsome time.

Influenzavirus is without a doubt the main virus of concern as it is draining, can lead to secondary bacterial infections and pneumonia and in the severest cases, death.  The flu vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent infection from this virus and should be considered a must for those who are greatest at risk (and those who tend to be surrounded by those most at risk).

However protection against the flu cannot preclude regular hygiene.  Keep those hands clean, keep carrying the hand sanitizer, always maintain that social distance of >1 metre (3 feet) whenever there is a sick individual around, and remember that surfaces are also great harbourers of infectious agents so always keep those high touch surfaces disinfected (and that includes cell phones, remote controls and keyboards).

And I’d like to add one more thing.  If you do find yourself having to go into a hospital while sick, please wear a mask and use the hand sanitizer stations.  The majority of infections in the hospital can be associated with people bringing them into the facility from outside.  While many may not think they can spread an infection to someone, just remember that many patients have compromised immune systems and are not as protected as the people outside.  Keep their health in mind as you wander the hallways.

By the way, I always enjoy talking with anyone about germs, whether they be sexagenarians, septuagenarians or nonagenarians.  As I head into my quadragenarian years on Monday, I just hope that people will continue to ask questions, enjoy open and positive discussions, and do their best to stay healthy.