The Flu is a common respiratory illness caused by the Influenza virus. It affects millions of Canadians every year. Although most people recover completely, every year up to 8,000 Canadians—mainly seniors—die from the Flu’s complications.
What are the symptoms of the Flu?
After you are infected, symptoms can take up to four days to appear. Symptoms often start with a cough, chills, and a headache. Other common symptoms can include fatigue and muscle aches, along with a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Some people, particularly children, may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
People over age 65, infants, and people who have chronic conditions including respiratory disease, diabetes, HIV infection, and cancer, are at greater risk of more severe complications, such as pneumonia.
How can I get the Flu?
The Influenza virus can spread rapidly. You can get the Flu when the virus comes into contact with your mouth, nose, or eyes. When people who have the Flu cough or sneeze, they can spread droplets contaminated with the Flu virus. Personal contact, such as a handshake, is another common way the virus spreads. The virus can live for as long as 48 hours on surfaces that an infected person has touched.
Most people are infectious for about a week, starting from the day before symptoms appear. Young children and people who have weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer.
Where can I get the Flu?
During Flu season, you can get the Flu anywhere. Flu season usually runs from late fall through to spring. In the northern hemisphere Flu season is usually November to April, and April to October in the southern hemisphere. There can be occasional Flu outbreaks at other times of the year, and in the tropics the Flu virus is active year round.
If you are travelling to any country during Flu season, you are at risk. Crowded conditions can increase your risk of infection. You may be more susceptible if you are vacationing on a cruise ship, joining a large tour or attending a mass gathering such as the Hajj.
What vaccines are available for the Flu?
A new Flu vaccine is created every year based on the strains of Influenza that are predicted to be active. The vaccine is usually available in October.
How many shots will I need?
You will need a single shot of Flu vaccine.
Will I need a booster?
There are no boosters for the Flu shot, but you should be vaccinated every year.
How can I prevent the Flu?
Get vaccinated. The Flu shot can protect up to 90 percent of people who get it. It’s the most effective way you can protect yourself from the Flu.
To prevent the spread of any Flu virus, and other infectious disease:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water.
- Use alcohol-based hand gel if soap and water are not available.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your arm or sleeve, not into your hand.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Keep shared surfaces and items like doorknobs and telephones clean and disinfected.
- Stay home if you are sick.
To avoid the Flu while you are in flight:
- Drink plenty of water before and during your flight. Air cabins have low humidity, and dehydration can make you more susceptible to viruses.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as both contribute to dehydration.
- Keep your eyes and nasal passages moist with saline eye drops and nasal spray. Dry mucus membranes are more susceptible to viruses that cause illness.
- If someone near you appears ill, or is coughing or sneezing, ask for a new seat. People who are seated closest to someone who is sick have the highest risk of exposure.
To avoid the Flu while you are on a cruise:
Illness can spread quickly in the close quarters of a busy cruise ship. Because passengers can originate from either the north or south hemisphere, Flu is a year round concern, and keeping your hands clean is of utmost importance.
Wash your hands:
- Before you eat or smoke.
- After you touch anything that gets frequent use, such as handrails and elevator buttons.
- After using the restroom.
- When you return to your cabin.
Carry disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces such as TV remotes and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands in case soap and water are not readily available.
What is the treatment for the Flu?
Most people recover on their own within 10 days although you may feel tired for up to two months after you recover.
If you do get the Flu, drink more fluids like water, juice, and soups, and get plenty of rest.
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. If you take it within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms it can reduce the severity of your symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days.