Flu (Influenza)

What is the flu?

Influenza (or “flu”) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Some people who get the flu can become very ill and need hospital care. The flu leads to thousands of deaths each year, mostly among the elderly. Young children and those with chronic health conditions are also at risk. In Canada, the flu season usually runs from November to April.

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the flu is to get the flu shot each year in the fall.

The Symptoms

Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • sneezing
  • sore throat
  • chills
  • watery eyes
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches

Influenza rarely causes diarrhea or throwing up. These two symptoms are typically caused by a different virus called Norovirus (“stomach flu”), rather than influenza.

How does it spread?

The influenza virus spreads when someone who is sick with the flu coughs or sneezes, sending droplets into the air. You can get the flu by breathing in these droplets through your nose or mouth, or by these droplets landing directly in your eyes. Germs can also rest on hard surfaces, like counters and doorknobs, where they can survive for up to 48 hours and be picked up on hands.

How can I protect myself?

To help stay healthy, people are urged to practice these precautions:

  • Get a flu shot
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve
  • Keep surfaces and items disinfected
  • Stay home if you are sick. If you are ill, do not visit people – especially the elderly – in long-term care facilities or hospitals.

Flu Activity in Perth County

In Canada, influenza (flu) season usually runs from November to April.

The Perth District Health Unit tracks the flu in the community by:

  • Lab-confirmed cases submitted through local doctors and hospitals;
  • outbreaks at local hospitals, long-term care homes and other facilities;
  • reports of high absenteeism in children from schools due to influenza-like symptoms.

The number of lab-confirmed cases of flu is only a small portion of people who may actually have the flu. Many people do not see a doctor or get tested when they are ill. The number of lab-confirmed cases being reported indicates the extent of flu in the county, however, there are likely many more cases in the County that we haven’t heard about.

To view the amount of influenza activity in Ontario and in our region, click on the Public Health Agency of Canada – Flu Watch.

The Flu Shot

The flu vaccine is updated annually because flu strains can change every year.

It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to start working. The flu shot works by boosting your immune system to make it better at fighting the flu – and at keeping you healthy.

A flu shot helps to prevent the flu in healthy adults and children. Some people who get the flu shot may still get the flu, but it will usually be a milder case than if they did not get the flu shot.

Parents of children 2 to 17 years of age may choose between a needle or a nasal spray flu vaccine.

Who should get the flu shot?

Everyone aged 6 months or older should get a flu shot.

Who should not get the flu shot?

  • Infants under 6 months of age
  • Anyone who had a severe reaction to a previous dose of flu vaccine
  • Anyone who has a serious allergy to any component of the vaccine
  • Anyone who has an active neurological disorder should postpone vaccination until their condition has stabilized
  • Persons who experienced Oculorespiratory Syndrome (ORS) with severe lower respiratory symptoms (wheeze, chest tightness, difficulty breathing) within 24 hours of a past flu shot and/or people who had previous Oculorespiratory Syndrome that required hospitalization
  • Those who developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a past flu shot
  • A person who is sick with a fever, or just started antibiotics, should wait until they recover before getting the flu vaccine.

Pregnancy and the flu shot

The flu shot is safe for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy, and for breastfeeding mothers. Women in the third trimester of pregnancy, and who may deliver their baby during the flu season, are especially encouraged to get the flu shot to protect their newborn baby. Since infants less than 6 months of age cannot receive the vaccine, getting a flu shot during pregnancy may offer protection to the newborn infant, too.

What are the risks from the flu shot?

Most people who get the flu shot have either no side effects or mild side effects, such as soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given. You might also notice headache, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches within six to 12 hours after your shot, and these effects may last a day or two.

A vaccine, like any medicine, can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions, within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. The risk of the flu vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small.

When should I seek medical attention?

Call your doctor or go to the nearest hospital if you have any of these symptoms after you receive the vaccine: high fever, skin rash, itchiness, hives, swelling of the lips, tongue or face, difficulty breathing, severe dizziness, fits or convulsions, and/or other serious reactions to the vaccine. Let the health care provider know that you had a flu shot.

Related Links

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: Get the Flu Shot

Health Canada: Fight Flu