Flu shots protect you

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Every year millions of people catch the flu, usually in late fall to early spring. Some people are only mildly affected, while others get very sick.

Influenza – commonly called the flu – is a viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads easily from person to person.

Every year millions of people catch the flu, usually in late fall to early spring. Some people are only mildly affected, while others get very sick.

Flu symptoms usually start suddenly with some or all of the following:

  • * Fever or feeling feverish
  • * Cough
  • * A sore throat
  • * Muscle aches and fatigue
  • * Loss of appetite;
  • * Runny or stuffy nose

Some people, especially children, may also have stomach upset and pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Most people recover from the flu in a week or 10 days. But others may develop serious complications, such as pneumonia, that can send them to hospital. The best way to protect yourself is by getting a flu shot every year.

What causes influenza? How is it spread?
Influenza (the flu) is caused by a virus. The virus can live in your nose, mouth, and eyes, and on your skin. It is highly contagious, meaning it spreads very easily. Two types of viruses mainly cause the flu: influenza A and B.

When someone who has the flu sneezes, coughs or talks, they release tiny droplets into the air. These droplets contain the flu virus. If they get into your mouth, nose or eyes, you can get infected.

The droplets can also land on things like doorknobs, phones, tissues or kitchen utensils. If you touch them and then touch your own eyes, nose or mouth, the virus can pass to you and make you sick.

Many people confuse the flu with a cold, but they are not the same. A cold infects your nose and throat, but the flu also affects your lungs. Cold symptoms—runny nose, sneezing, cough and sore throat—are unpleasant, but usually mild. When you have the flu, you feel really sick.

What is the treatment for influenza?
If you do get influenza (the flu), your symptoms may be mild. They can be treated with:

  • * Rest
  • * Fluids
  • * Medicine to reduce your fever.

For children younger than 6 years old, do not give over the counter cough and flu medicines unless a health care provider prescribes them.

You should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. This will help prevent the spread of the virus.

If you are very sick, call your health care provider. Tell them over the phone before your appointment that you may have the flu. They can arrange to see you without exposing other people to the virus.

Your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral drug. It comes in pill or liquid form, or you may get it as an inhaler–a device that allows you to breathe in the medicine.

It is important to start antiviral medication as soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours of getting sick. This is especially important for:

  • * People who are sick enough to need hospital care; and
  • * People at risk for complications from the flu.


For more information please visit: The Healthy Canadians website.

Photo: Gabriel Saldana