FAQs about the flu
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.
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
Your best defense against the flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. There are a number of ways to prevent the flu, including getting the flu shot, frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching your face with your hands, sanitizing household surfaces and children’s toys, and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
Every Canadian over the age of six months should get an annual flu vaccination. Even young, healthy people can get the flu and become seriously ill. The flu vaccination is the best way to help prevent catching or spreading the flu. Even if you had a flu vaccination last year, you need to get a flu vaccination again this year. The flu vaccine is especially important for:• Children aged 6-23 months
• Adults and children with chronic heart and lung disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, HIV or kidney disease
• People living in a nursing home
• People aged 65 and over
• Children and adolescents on long-term aspirin (ASA) therapy
• Healthy pregnant women
• Health care workers; caregivers
People who should not get the flu vaccine include:• Children younger than six months
• People who have had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. People with severe allergic reaction to eggs are able to receive the flu vaccine, but there may be some restrictions (talk to your Pharmacist for more information).
• Those dealing with an acute illness, an infection or a fever. You should postpone the flu shot until you are in better health.
There are other important ways to help prevent catching or spreading the flu. These include:• Maintain a healthy and active lifestyle
• Wash your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds, using warm water and soap
• When soap and water are not available, use an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer
• Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough and throw away used tissues and wash your hands immediately
• If a tissue is not available, sneeze or cough into your elbow or upper arm to avoid spreading germs to your hands
• Clean household surfaces and children’s toys often
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you think you may have come in contact with flu germs
• Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils
• Give each family member his/her own towel
• Try to avoid crowds during the flu season
• If you have the flu, stay at home
Certain people may be more at risk to develop complications and become more ill from the flu. The flu vaccination is especially important to help protect these people:• Children aged 6-23 months – these children may be more likely to develop complications from the flu and are more likely to be hospitalized because of them
• Adults and children with chronic diseases that require them to have regular medical attention or hospital care, e.g., chronic heart and lung disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, weakened immune systems, cystic fibrosis, HIV or kidney disease
• Children and adolescents on long-term aspirin (ASA) therapy – people with these conditions are more likely to develop complications if they get the flu
• People aged 65 and over – seniors have the highest rate of hospitalization and death from the flu. The most common complications in seniors include bacterial infection and pneumonia. NOTE: the flu vaccine may be less effective in this population, so it is very important that all family members, health care providers, and caregivers have a flu shot to better protect seniors.
• Healthy pregnant women – pregnant women are not more likely to get the flu, but they are more likely to develop complications if they do get the flu because during pregnancy the immune system that helps fight off disease is less effective
The flu is a serious illness and can lead to serious complications, hospitalization and even death. Every flu season is different and the flu affects everyone differently as well. Many people think that only people with health problems need an annual flu vaccination. This is NOT true. Healthy people can also get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. The flu can leave you ill for up to seven days or more. The good news is that flu vaccination effectiveness is greatest among healthy adults and older children. Everyone six months of age and older should have an annual flu vaccination.
Get your flu vaccination early in the flu season so that you are already protected when the flu starts circulating in your community. It takes about two weeks for your body to become protected from the flu vaccination. Once you have been vaccinated, you will have the benefits of protection for as long as the flu is circulating. An annual vaccination is needed because protection from the vaccination will decline over the year. In addition, the circulating flu strain changes every year and every year the flu vaccine is formulated to match the current strain to help protect against the flu more effectively. So for the best protection, an annual vaccination is recommended.