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Dr. Marla Shapiro will be at the Women’s Health Matters Forum and Expo this weekend.

Dr. Marla Shapiro has heard the phrase “It’s just the flu” far too many times. The physician, who is well-known across the country for her regular television appearances and newspaper columns, is determined to raise awareness of the potentially devastating affects of influenza when she joins a host of other speakers at the Women’s Health Matters Forum and Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre tomorrow.

The show aims to provide information about current hot topics in women’s health through interactive discussions and information sessions for both consumers and health providers.

“We tend to use the term ‘the flu’ to describe every cough, sneeze, ache, cold and pain that has nothing to do with influenza,” Shapiro says.

While it may seem benign, the respiratory infection known as influenza can be deadly in seniors, in children under the age of two, and among people with chronically suppressed immune systems.

According to Health Canada statistics, between 4,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of influenza and its complications annually.

Symptoms include headache, chills, cough, fever, muscle aches, runny nose, sneezing and throat irritation — which Shapiro says are typically mistaken for those of the common cold.

“The phrase ‘It’s just the flu’ inherently implies this is a mild disease that we don’t have to worry about. That’s myth number one because there’s significant morbidity meaning illness, significant mortality, significant time lost from work, huge dollars in terms of what it costs the Canadian economy.”

Health Canada points to annual flu vaccinations as the primary means of defending against the infection, but Shapiro is quick to remind that there are misconceptions both about the illness and the means of preventing its spread.

First, she stresses, the flu shot will not give one the flu. Another common quote Shapiro often hears from patients is, “I never get the flu.”

“(That) probably isn’t true because there are a lot of sub-clinical cases of influenza that we tend to propagate,” she says. “I think we underestimate the flu in terms of deaths and how it affects us.”

Beyond vaccinations, Shapiro feels some of the simplest solutions, such as the sleeve sneeze and simple hand washing, are effective, everyday alternatives to limiting the spread of the flu or any sort of bacteria or viruses.

The Women’s Health Matters Forum and Expo opens today and closes tomorrow at 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.womenshealthmatters.ca/forum.

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