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Flu, COVID-19 and more: Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy expert on the importance of getting vaccinated – University of Toronto

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With the arrival of respiratory virus season and ongoing circulation of the virus that causes COVID-19, a University of Toronto expert says getting vaccinated is one of the best things people can do to protect themselves and others who may be vulnerable.

Natalie Crown

“We know influenza is now circulating in our community and cases are greater and rising earlier than usual this year,” said Natalie Crown, assistant professor, teaching stream, and director of the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“We also know about the immense strain facing our emergency departments, hospitals and our health-care system at the moment.”

FluWatch, the national system that tracks the spread of influenza, reports that the percentage of hospital visits by patients with flu-like symptoms has been above the seasonal average across the country.

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To help protect members of the U of T community, the university is offering vaccines – including COVID-19 vaccines and the flu shot – at clinics across its three campuses (more information is available at UTogether). Students are also getting involved; members of U of T Emergency First Responders participated in a unique lay vaccinator pilot program earlier this year that involved experts from the Dalla School of Public Health and University Health Network.

On the St. George campus, students, staff, faculty and librarians can schedule a vaccination appointment at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy’s Discovery Pharmacy or check UTogether for information about pop-up clinics. At present, clinics are scheduled to take place at:

On Nov. 24, U of T Scarborough is running a vaccine clinic in the Meeting Place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

At U of T Mississauga, flu vaccine clinics are being offered by the Health & Counselling Centre inside the William G. Davis Building, and pop-up clinics will be held inside the Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre.

Vaccine clinics are also being run in collaboration with Toronto Public Health and Peel Public Health.

Crown spoke with U of T News about the importance of staying up-to-date with vaccinations and how to manage any anxiety about the process.


Why is it important for people to get their flu and COVID-19 shots this year?

Getting the influenza vaccine and a COVID-19 booster is important to protect ourselves and people in our community who are most vulnerable to complications from these viruses.

We know influenza is now circulating in our community, and cases are greater and rising earlier than usual this year. We also know about the immense strain facing our emergency departments, hospitals and health-care system at the moment.

In addition to wearing masks indoors, washing our hands and staying home when we are sick, getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our community, and to lessen the burden on the health-care system.

Can you get both shots at once?

Yes, anyone age five and over can safely get their flu and COVID-19 vaccines on the same day. Most of us should get both a flu vaccine and booster of the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine this fall. You are eligible for a fall booster of COVID-19 vaccine if it has been at least 3 months since your last booster or COVID infection.

Can you remind us how these vaccines work?  

Vaccines help protect us from severe infections by imitating the virus so that if we get the infection, our body is ready to recognize it quickly and mount the immune response needed to fight it off.    

What does it meant to stay “up to date” with vaccinations?

This means you are getting all the vaccines that are recommended, considering your age and personal circumstances – including risk factors and other medical conditions. This includes being up to date on other vaccines, such as tetanus and those recommended when we are children.

Zaijah Thomas prepares a dose of the flu vaccine at the Discovery Pharmacy clinic located on the St. George Campus (photo by Johnny Guatto)

How should someone deal with anxiety or fear about getting vaccinated? 

This is important. This is often due to one of two reasons: one is being nervous about needles, which is more common than people think; the second is that some people are sometimes afraid when they don’t have enough information.

For either reason, this can mean they don’t end up getting vaccinated or become stressed during vaccination. If they are stressed during vaccination, this increases their risk of experiencing adverse reactions, such as dizziness and fainting.

The good news is we have ways to help. We use the CARD (Comfort-Ask-Relax-Distract) system to invite people to ask questions and share their preferences for how they receive their vaccine. Within each letter category, there are different strategies to address concerns about vaccination.

Here are a few examples: For “Comfort” people may want a private vaccination area or to bring a support person; for “Ask,” they may want to ask questions about the vaccine, or how to make the needle hurt less; to “Relax” while getting a vaccine, they can try deep breaths; and they may choose to “Distract” themselves with their cell phone, by playing with fidget toys or by looking away during injection.

Speak to the person administering your vaccine about how the CARD system can help.

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HIV/AIDS progress in Brazil

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03:08

December 1 is World AIDS Day,  a time to raise awareness and show support for those living with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Treatment of HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the first cases became public in the 1980s.

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And Brazil is one country that led the way; its pioneering programs to identify and treat patients recognized the world over.

In recent years, however, the country’s progress has shown to be slipping.

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Early RSV season primarily impacts infants

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Dear Doctors: What can I do to protect my baby from RSV? What are the symptoms? People are talking about a “tripledemic,” and it has my husband and me worried. We’re both vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19, and we are being super careful when we’re out and about. What else can we do?

Dear Reader: RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus. It’s a common winter virus that can affect people of any age. In most cases, RSV infection causes mild symptoms similar to the common cold. However, infants and children younger than 2, whose immune systems are still developing, are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill.

RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia in infants and young children in the United States. It is also the leading cause of bronchiolitis in that age group. That’s a lung infection in which the smallest airways become inflamed and swollen, and an increase in mucus production impedes air flow into and out of the lungs.

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This year, as with the flu, RSV season has arrived early. Hospitals throughout the U.S. are reporting a surge of serious infections among infants and younger children.

The virus enters the body through the airways and the mucous membranes. It can remain viable on hard surfaces — such as a doorknob, night table or dinnerware — for several hours. It can also persist on softer surfaces, such as a tissue or the skin. Someone can become infected by breathing in the viral particles that remain airborne following a cough or a sneeze, or by touching their mouth, nose or eyes after direct contact with contaminated droplets.

Someone who is sick with RSV typically remains contagious for between four and eight days. However, due to their still-developing immune systems, it’s possible for infants to continue to spread the virus for several weeks, even after symptoms of the disease have abated. There is no vaccine for this virus, and no targeted treatments. Prevention relies on the same precautions you use to avoid any respiratory illness. That is, keep your baby away from people who are ill, avoid close contact with people outside your home and be vigilant about hand hygiene.

Symptoms of RSV arise between three and six days after infection. They can include a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, fever, a decrease in appetite and lung congestion that can cause wheezing. These symptoms tend to be progressive, arriving in stages as the body mounts its attack against the virus. But in very young patients, the first, and sometimes only noticeable, symptoms of RSV can be increased fussiness, a decrease in activity and difficulty breathing.

Treatment for RSV consists of managing symptoms. The specific avenue of care depends on a child’s age, general health and symptoms. In infants, treating RSV includes a focus on adequate hydration and remaining alert for any signs of problems with breathing. The majority of RSV infections run their course in a week to 10 days. Parents of younger infants should check with their pediatricians for guidance on treatment, particularly medications. If your child has difficulty breathing, isn’t drinking enough fluids or has worsening symptoms, call your health care provider right away.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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AIDS Memorial Quilt comes to Palm Beach County

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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The largest piece of community folk art in the world, a tribute to victims of AIDS, is on display in Palm Beach County.

Now through Dec. 15, three different panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often known as the AIDS Quilt, will be on display at three different Palm Beach County Public Library locations.

The quilt is a giant tribute to the lives of people who have died due to AIDS or AIDS-related causes.

The quilt weighs around 54 tons and was started in the 1980s during the early years of the AIDS pandemic.

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Three different panels of the AIDS Quilt will be on display at three different Palm Beach County Public Library locations through Dec. 15.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is comprised of nearly 50,000 panels containing 91,000 names of the men, women and children who lost their lives to the immune system disease.

The blocks, which make up the panels, are stitched by individuals in communities across the nation, including one librarian right in Palm Beach County.

Katrina Brockway, a librarian at the Hagen Ranch Road Branch Library, said she feels it brings tragedy a bit closer to home.

Katrina Brockway, librarian at the Hagen Ranch Road Branch Library discusses the AIDS Quilt visit
Librarian Katrina Brockway explains the impact of seeing the AIDS Quilt in person.

“It becomes so much more personal when you see these quilt panels and all of these people who were loved and didn’t have the same opportunity to escape this,” Brockway said. “So you can remember them, what they went through, and what their loved ones have gone through.”

Visitors can see the quilt panels during normal library hours at the library’s main branch on Summit Boulevard at the Jupiter branch and at the west Boca Raton branch.

Click here for the library’s hours and more information on upcoming AIDS events at the library.

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