Influenza (the flu) typically starts with a headache, chills and cough. Those are quickly followed by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, running nose, sneezing, watery eyes and sore throat. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur, especially in children.
Most people will have uncomplicated influenza and recover from within a week or ten days, but some are at greater risk of developing more severe complications such as pneumonia.
Who is Most at Risk
Some people are more likely to get seriously ill if they catch the flu, including:
- Children and adults (including pregnant women) with chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, cardiac disorders, asthma, and morbid obesity (people with a body mass index greater than 40);
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities;
- People 65 years of age and older;
- Healthy children under 5 years of age;
- Aboriginal Peoples; and
- Healthy pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy.
How to Avoid Getting the Flu
The seasonal flu vaccine is safe and effective and remains the best protection against flu viruses. Everyone over the age of six months is encouraged to get the vaccine.
Receiving the flu vaccine is especially important for those who are more likely to get seriously ill or suffer complications if they catch the flu. Getting the flu shot every year is important because the vaccine is reformulated annually. Flu viruses are constantly changing and your immunity levels following vaccination decrease over time, which is why a flu vaccine is needed each year. Flu vaccine is made up of the flu strains that research suggests will cause the most illness in the upcoming flu season. The flu vaccine remains the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu.
It's also important to remember that the flu vaccine protects against three or four flu strains (depending on the type of vaccine you receive), so even when there is a less than ideal match or lower effectiveness against one strain, the vaccine can provide protection against the remaining two or three strains.
In addition to getting the flu shot, you can protect yourself and your family from infection during flu season by taking the following steps:
- Clean your hands frequently;
- Cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand. If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands;
- If you get sick, stay home;
- Keep your hands away from your face;
- Keep common surface areas - for example, doorknobs, light switches, telephones and keyboards - clean and disinfected; and
- Eat healthy foods and stay physically active to keep your immune system strong.
If you are elderly and at high-risk of complications or if you are severely ill with the flu, consult a health care professional regarding the potential use of antiviral drugs to help manage the flu. It is important that antiviral drugs be started as early as possible after you get sick.
The flu vaccine is also highly recommended for:
- Those in close contact with individuals at high-risk for complications (e.g. healthcare workers, household members, and those providing childcare to children up to five years of age);
- Those who provide services within closed or relatively closed environments to persons at high risk (e.g. crew on a ship);
- People who provide essential community services including emergency medical responders such as paramedics, police and firefighters; and
- People in direct contact during culling operations with poultry infected with avian influenza.