Protect Against the Flu

 The flu (influenza) is a contagious virus that anyone can get. But there are several things you can do to protect yourself from catching it, or spreading it to others.

Where to get the flu shot near you

The flu shot is your best defense

The flu shot is:

  • safe (including for kids and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)
  • free
  • available from your doctor or nurse practitioner, and at participating pharmacies and local public health units across the province
  • proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu
  • different each year  because the virus changes frequently – so you need to get it every fall

Flu season runs from late fall to early spring. Be sure to get your shot as soon as it is available  because it takes two weeks to take effect.

Get the flu shot

Other tips to avoid getting – and spreading – the virus

washing hands under a tap with bubbles

Wash your hands often

  • even after getting the flu shot, washing with soap and water for at least 15 seconds helps prevent the spread of the virus, which can live on your hands for up to 3 hours
  • if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer (gel or wipes) with at least 60% alcohol
person coughing into their sleeve

Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze

  • use a tissue and throw it out rather than putting it in your pocket, on a desk or table
  • if you don’t have a tissue, cough into your upper sleeve
keep your hands out of eyes, nose and mouth

Don’t touch your face

  • the flu virus spreads when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk and droplets enter your body through your eyesnose or mouth
avoid crowds and your workplace

Stay at home when you’re sick

  • viruses spread more easily in group settings, such as businesses, schools and nursing homes
wiping down a surface

Clean (and disinfect) surfaces and shared items

  • viruses live on hard surfaces like countertops, door handles, computer keyboards and phones for up to 8 hours

Who is most at risk

Complications from the flu can include pneumonia, which is a serious illness. Flu causes about 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year.

Some people are more vulnerable to complications or hospitalization from the flu:

  • Babies under 6 months are too young to get the flu shot, but they’ll get some protection if their parent gets the flu shot while pregnant
  • Children under five years of age  because their immune systems are developing, and their airways are small and more easily blocked
  • People over 65 years old, because their immune systems are weaker and they may have an underlying condition that increases their risk
  • Pregnant people, because their immune system, heart and lungs change – especially later in pregnancy – and makes it harder to fight infection
  • People with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes

Symptoms

Symptoms typically appear 1 to 4 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus – but it’s contagious right away, so you can still catch it from someone who shows no symptoms yet.

Most otherwise-healthy people will recover within 7 to 10 days.

You may have caught the flu if you have:

  • fever
  • chills
  • cough
  • runny eyes
  • stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • extreme weakness and tiredness
  • loss of appetite

Some people may have diarrhea or vomit, though this is more common in children than adults

Flu vs. common cold

The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar but, unlike a case of the common cold, the flu can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia.

Use this chart to help determine if you have a cold or the flu.

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rare Common, high (102°F – 104°F or 39°C – 40°C). Starts suddenly, lasts 3 to 4 days. Not all people with flu
General aches and pains Sometimes, mild Common, often severe
Muscle aches Sometimes, usually mild Often, can be severe
Feeling tired and weak Sometimes, mild Common, may last 2 to 3 weeks or more
Fatigue (extreme tiredness) Unusual Common, starts early
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Complications Can lead to sinus congestion or earache Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, worsen a current chronic respiratory condition, be life-threatening
Chest discomfort and/or coughing Sometimes, mild to moderate Common, can become severe

If you get the flu

Be sure to:

  • stay home and get plenty of rest
  • drink lots of fluids
  • avoid caffeine
  • speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner about over-the-counter medications that can help you feel better (basic pain or fever relievers), but do not give acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin®) to children or teenagers under the age of 18
  • treat muscle pain using a hot water bottle or heating pad — apply heat for short periods of time
  • take a warm bath
  • gargle with a glass of warm salt water or suck on hard candy or lozenges
  • use spray or saline drops for a stuffy nose
  • avoid alcohol and tobacco

Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if:

  • you don’t start to feel better after a few days
  • your symptoms get worse
  • you are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms

You can also call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000 to talk to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You do not need to provide your OHIP number and all information is confidential.

Posted originally on: https://www.ontario.ca/page/flu-facts

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