This season's influenza vaccine might not set any records for effectiveness, but the flu hasn't hit southwest Saskatchewan too hard.

Saskatchewan Health Authority's Consulting Medical Health Officer, Dr. David Torr, said of 55 outbreaks at long-term-care facilities, only a couple have been in the southwest.

The number of vaccines given out in Swift Current isn't available - vaccines are still being administered - but Torr said it seems the running total is a little higher than it seems to have been in years past.

He also credits the public's use of respiratory ettiquette as a factor to the lack of outbreak in the area.

"Kudos certainly to the community for much better ettiquette for respiratory infections. Keeping away when they're ill, washing their hands, and such. But also encouraging them to, if they haven't had their vaccination, to have their vaccination. I think we've actually done pretty good so far."

Last flu season there were 70 outbreaks in Saskatchewan, and with this season mid swing, it is certainly conceivable that number will be passed.

Torr did say this year's vaccine hasn't worked quite as well as the medical community would have liked. Right now the 'A' strains of influenza are on their way out as the 'B' strains move in.

"Right now the A strains are reducing, which is expected this time of the year. They are most predominant in the December and January months. So right now we're going to see more and more of the B strains predominating, and fewer and fewer of the A. But both are still circulating," said Torr.

The vaccine doesn't prevent someone from getting the flu; instead, it usually makes the respiratory illness not quite as severe. While vaccines against the measles can be over 90 per cent effective, a well-concocted flu vaccine, that isn't outsmarted by the ever-mutating virus (you're not alone if you're thinking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles right now), won't approach that level of success according to Torr.

"For influenza, because it's all the time mutating, we've never really been able to get into those high 80s or 90s," Torr explained. "But certainly the most years the average has been anything from best 50-60 per cent, then 40s, 50s, and a really bad year may be 30s. So it's hard to determine. But one thing that needs to be clear is that we cannot have 100-per-cent efficiency with any vaccine. You can have 90s plus with some vaccines, where there's not much or any mutation. With the influenza, you would be lucky to get anywhere above 60."

It's too early to tell exactly how effective this season's flu shots have been. They contain proteins extracted from what scientists expect the virus to turn into, based on data they collect from six different posts, analyzing the viruses they come across during the southern hemisphere's flu season. Right now scientists are looking at what's going on north of the equator to determine what the vaccine will look like for the southern hemisphere's flu season - and their recipe won't known until well into spring.

And it's not necessarily the flu when someone contracts a respiratory illness. Torr said there are about seven other respiratory illnesses floating around.

But while it's just influenza, and not all respiratory viruses, the flu shot fights against, and while its effectiveness may not exceed 50 per cent much by much on a good year, and while it doesn't completely prevent someone from getting the flu, Torr said people getting immunized and doing what they can to prevent spreading the flu has led to a low number of outbreaks in southwest Saskatchewan.

As tasty as it looks on television, splitting a pizza with some turtles named after painters in a sewer might not be a good method for avoiding the flu.

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