About Influenza (the flu)
What is the flu?
Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Most people who get the flu are ill for only a few days. Some people, such as the very young, elderly or those with chronic diseases, can get very sick and need to go to the hospital. Occasionally influenza can lead to death from influenza-related pneumonia or other flu- related complications.
Influenza viruses change slightly every year to escape the immunity people develop from either having the flu or getting the flu vaccine in the past. That is why we need to get an influenza vaccine every year.
How can I get the flu?
The flu is very contagious and spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. People can become infected by touching objects or surfaces with flu viruses on them and then touching their mouth or nose. Influenza is not the 'stomach flu', which mainly causes abdominal upset and diarrhea.
You can spread the virus to those around you from one day before symptoms develop and for five to seven days after becoming sick.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
- high fever
- general muscle aches and pain
- extreme fatigue and weakness
- sore throat
- chest discomfort
- runny, stuffy nose
- occasionally nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur in children, but rarely in adults
What should I do if I get the flu or develop flu-like symptoms?
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink a lot of liquids
- Avoid using alcohol and tobacco
- Stay home and avoid contact with other people to protect them from catching your illness
- Some non-prescription medications such as acetaminophen can help relieve the symptoms of flu such as fever, aches and pains. Antibiotics do not have any effect against a viral illness like the flu.
Note: ASA (aspirin) should not be given to children or teenagers unless specifically directed to do so by a health care provider. The use of aspirin has been strongly linked with the development of Reye's syndrome, a rare disease that affects mainly children or teenagers during a viral illness such as chicken pox or influenza. Reye's syndrome can be fatal.
Do I need to seek medical attention?
Most people recover from the flu within one week to 10 days. If symptoms last more than 10 days, or worsen, visit your family doctor, nurse practitioner or a walk-in clinic. You should seek medical attention for the following:
- Very high or prolonged fever;
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing;
- Bluish skin colour;
- You are not able to drink enough fluids (become dehydrated);
- Changes in mental status such as difficulty waking, irritability, or seizures;
- You have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough;
- Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
How do I prevent the flu?
- Get a flu vaccine every year.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water or hand sanitizer can also be used when soap and water are not readily available.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or cover your nose and mouth with a tissue and throw tissues away after use (then wash your hands).
- Teach your children to use good coughing etiquette and the importance of washing their hands.
- If you are ill, stay at home (eg. work, school and public gatherings).