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Each year in late fall and through the winter, flu strikes.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a common, highly-contagious respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat and lungs, and makes you feel quite ill. Symptoms usually last about a week to 10 days. The flu is not like a common cold. It is a serious infection especially in infants, seniors and in people who have other medical conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer immune suppression, HIV or kidney disease.
The flu may also lead to complications, such as pneumonia, and may worsen certain other conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure or diabetes.
The flu spreads through droplets that are spread by people infected with the flu. These droplets are spread through coughing, sneezing or even talking. Sneezes can send germs flying as far as six feet. The flu is also spread by direct contact with objects and surfaces that have come in contact with flu germs, e.g., toys, eating utensils, drinking glasses, and most importantly, unwashed hands. Flu germs can live on surfaces for 2-8 days. The flu spreads very quickly from person to person because during the months when flu is circulating in the community, people tend to spend more time indoors, in closer proximity to other people.
Remember that people may be contagious BEFORE they know they have the flu and AFTER their symptoms have gone. People may be contagious for a few days before symptoms begin and for 5-7 days after becoming sick.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the best way to prevent the flu is to have a flu vaccination each year, in the late fall. Since the virus causing the flu changes from year to year, the flu vaccine you received last year may not protect you this year. Flu vaccinations will be offered at Shoppers Drug Mart stores in the fall in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Our Pharmacists will be administering the flu shots to people aged 5 and above (9 and above in Saskatchewan; 7 and above in Manitoba).
In Canada, the flu season usually runs from November to April. This is why it is important to get your flu shot between October and December, before the number of cases of flu increases in Canada.
The number of cases of the flu varies from year to year. It will depend on:
• How actively infectious the strains of flu are in that year
• How closely the flu vaccine matches the flu strain
• How careful people are to avoid getting the fluThe Public Health Agency of Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control both advise that the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine. If the vaccine and the flu strain are a good match, the vaccine can prevent the flu in about 70%-90% of healthy children and adults. Approximately 3-7.5 million Canadians will get the flu in any given year.
Most people will recover fully in about a week or 10 days, but some may develop serious complications. Approximately 12,200 Canadians are hospitalized because of the flu and its complications each flu season; about 3,500 Canadians will die from pneumonia related to the flu and other serious complications of the flu.
The following groups of people may be at greater risk of developing complications from the flu, if they do get sick:
• Children younger than five years old (especially those younger than two years old)
• Women who are pregnant
• Aboriginal people
• People with chronic conditions such as:
• Heart disease
• Liver disease
• Kidney disease
• Blood disorders
• Severe obesity
• Asthma and chronic lung disease
• Immunosuppression (people taking cancer drugs or people with HIV/AIDS)
• Neurological disorders