As the brisk winter weather arrives, with it comes the flu. The average healthy adult can recover from the flu after spending a couple of days in bed. But vulnerable populations — such as pregnant women, children under the age of five, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions — are at risk for hospitalization, developing serious complications, and even death.

“Every year 10–20 percent of the population gets the flu,” says Dr. Vivien Brown, a leading Toronto-based family physician and President of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. “The flu is the 6th leading cause of death in Canada, and these are deaths that could be prevented through vaccination.” Getting vaccinated doesn’t just give you protection, it also protects high-risk members of the community by reducing transmission rates. The flu also affects Canadian businesses — absenteeism, interruption of service to clients and health benefit costs are all real challenges that prompt many businesses to offer onsite vaccination clinics to their employees.

Influenza can destabilize chronic conditions

“Even well-managed chronic conditions can be destabilized by the flu,” says Dr. Brown. Individuals with asthma, lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, metabolic disorders, or those who have or have had cancer are at the highest risk. But many Canadians who have these conditions in the early stages of their development may not even know it. “Diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver disease and cancer can all take years or even decades to develop,” says Dr. Brown. Risk factors and early stage disease often go unnoticed. Since many provinces have delisted annual physicals for healthy adults, including Quebec and Ontario, it’s even more important to take a proactive approach to health.

Preventive health can prevent or delay chronic conditions

Organizations that take a preventive approach to health care, like Dr. Brown’s, seek to identify risk factors at their earliest possible stage and to facilitate positive lifestyle changes to prevent illness and diseases.

Being proactive about your health can involve improving daily habits, seeking out private annual health care assessments to screen for risk factors and early stage disease, and getting immunizations like the flu shot.