Influenza (or flu) is a common respiratory illness that affects millions of Canadians every year. Getting an annual influenza vaccination (or flu shot) can help prevent an infection or reduce the severity of the illness.
In Canada, flu season usually runs from November to April, and an estimated 10-25% of Canadians could have the flu each year.
The influenza virus spreads through droplets from someone with the flu, who coughs or sneezes into the air. You can become infected by breathing in these droplets through your nose or mouth, or through the droplets landing directly on your eyes. The flu virus is also found on the hands of people with the flu and on surfaces they have touched. You can become infected if you shake hands with infected persons or touch contaminated surfaces, which can transfer the virus to your own eyes, nose or mouth.
These are the symptoms of influenza:
- Cough and fever
- Muscle aches
- Sore Throat
- Decreased appetite
- Runny nose
Minimizing Your Risk
Seasonal Influenza Vaccine (Flu Shots)
The most effective way to protect yourself from flu is to be vaccinated each year in the fall. Every year, the vaccine is formulated to protect against the most commonly circulating flu viruses. Seasonal flu shots are especially important for:
- children aged 6 to 23 months
- adults and children with chronic heart and lung disease;
- anyone living in a nursing home or chronic care facility;
- people aged 65 years and older;
- people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, immune suppression, HIV, or kidney disease;
- children and adolescents on long term acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) therapy;
- healthy pregnant women;
- health care workers, other caregivers, and household contacts capable of transmitting influenza to the above at-risk groups;
- people at high risk of influenza complications who are traveling to areas where the flu virus is likely to be circulating.
Certain groups should not be vaccinated. These include children under six months of age and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of the vaccine. The timing of the seasonal flu vaccine campaigns for the 2009/10 flu season will vary across the country. Please check with the health authority in your region for further information.
The benefits of flu shots far outweigh their risks. The flu vaccine cannot cause influenza because it does not contain any live virus. The most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection, which may last a couple of days. You might also notice fever, fatigue and muscle aches within six to 12 hours after your shot, and these effects may last a day or two.
- To prevent the spread of any influenza virus, and other infectious disease, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends:
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer
- Cough and sneeze into your arm or sleeve
- Keep common areas and shared items clean and disinfected
- Keep doing what you normally do, but stay home if you are sick
- Check www.fightflu.ca for more information
- Talk to a health professional if you experience severe flu-like symptoms
If you get the flu, you should increase the amount of fluids you drink (water, juice, soups) and get plenty of rest for seven to ten days. There are also medications to treat influenza. If you take them within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms, they may reduce the length of your illness by an average of one or two days.
Need More Info?
For more information, contact your local public health department or your health care provider.
Also, visit the Fight Flu Web portal
The portal provides you with access to information on flu, as well as links to resources from the provinces and territories. You can also call the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Information Line at 1-800-454-8302 (toll-free in Canada) for information about seasonal flu, the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and Avian flu.