Preventing the Flu
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What is influenza?
Influenza (also called “the flu”) is a viral infection in the nose, throat and lungs. It is estimated that influenza causes approximately 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year.
The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Most people feel better after 1 or 2 weeks, but for some people, the flu leads to serious diseases, such as pneumonia, and even death.
Path to Improved Health
You can help prevent the flu by washing your hands frequently, which stops the spread of germs. Eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep also play a part in preventing the flu because they help boost your immune system.
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine. You should get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available each fall, but you can also get it any time throughout the flu season (into December, January and beyond).
The vaccines work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. After receiving the flu shot, your arm may be sore for a few days. You may have a fever, feel tired or have sore muscles for a short time.
Should I get the flu vaccine?
The following people have a higher risk of flu complications:
- Adults 65 and older
- Babies and children 6 months to 5 years
- Pregnant people
- Anyone with chronic conditions (like heart disease, asthma, and diabetes)
- People at high risk of COVID-19 related illness
- People who live or care for those at high risk of influenza-related complications or hospitalization
All persons who are 6 months of age or older should get the flu vaccine as long as there are no contraindications.
The following people should contact their healthcare provider before getting the flu shot:
- People who have had an allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past
- People who previously developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a reversible reaction that causes partial or complete loss of movement of muscles, weakness or a tingling sensation in the body) within 6 weeks of getting a flu shot
- People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait until they feel better before receiving the flu shot.
Things to Consider
Some people who get the vaccine will still get the flu. Each year, the flu vaccine contains 3 different strains (kinds) of the virus. The strains chosen are those that scientists believe are most likely to show up in Canada that year. If the choice is right, the vaccine can be as much as 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy adults. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, your flu symptoms can be milder than if you didn’t get the vaccine. You’ll also reduce your risk of complications from the flu. .
Antiviral flu drugs are prescription medicines that can be used to help prevent and/or treat the flu. There are antiviral drugs, including oseltamivir, zanamivir and peramivir, authorized for influenza treatment and/or prophylaxis in Canada. If you take one of these drugs within 2 days of getting sick, it can lessen your symptoms, decrease the amount of time you are sick and make you less contagious to other people. However, most healthy people who have the flu get better without using an antiviral flu drug. Your healthcare provider will decide whether one of these medicines is right for you.
If you do get sick, stay home, and try to isolate from others. If you are around others, cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands often to prevent spreading the flu.
Where can I learn more about the flu vaccine?
For more information, you can visit the Health Canada Website: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza.html