The flu: what you should know and how to prevent it

If you haven’t had a flu shot yet and are wondering if it’s worth it, you’re in the right place.

This year’s flu season starts earlier than usual and many experts are especially asking children, pregnant women and the elderly to get vaccinated against the flu (the best method for preventing the flu and the spread of the virus).

“We want to remind people that the flu season is coming up and that it would be ideal to get vaccinated before it starts because it takes the body two weeks to develop immunity,”Dr. Genevieve Cadieux, a medical health officer at Ottawa Public Health, tells Ottawa Citizen.

According to Citizen, there were 617 confirmed cases of flu in Canada over the past year. In Spain, during the 2015-2016 season, 3,101 severe cases of hospitalised influenza cases were reported.

Although vaccines in Canada were only effective in 42% of cases during the last two flu seasons, it is still important to get vaccinated against the virus to protect yourself and those you come in contact with.

“Even if it only works in 50% of cases, that means you’re half as likely to get the flu. On the other hand, if you don’t get vaccinated and come into contact with the virus, you have a 100% chance of getting it, more or less. So the vaccine is the best protection against the flu,”says Cardieux.

Not sure if you’re vaccinated? Well, read these facts about the flu and maybe you’ll change your mind.

What is the flu?

According to the Canadian Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It is different from the common cold, appears suddenly and can be moderate or severe, in fact, in some cases can even be fatal.

How do you contract?

The flu is contagious, and people who have it can stick it to other people who are less than two meters away, according to the CDC. Experts believe that viruses are spread by the droplets created when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. When these drops come into contact with other people’s mouth or nose or are inhaled, there is a risk of getting the disease.

It is also possible to get the flu by touching an object that has the virus and then touching your nose or mouth. That’s why frequent hand washing is so important.

On the other hand, it is very easy to pass it on to others because infected people can infect others the day before they show symptoms. Maybe you don’t even know you’re sick yourself. This also occurs after illness is over, people with the flu can give others the virus up to five or seven days after getting sick.

Who can get it?

Anyone can get the flu, but the elderly – 55 to 60 years old – people with a weak immune system, children and pregnant women are more susceptible to it.

What are the symptoms?

According to the CDC, people with the flu may show some of these symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Throat irritation
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body pain
  • Headache – headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (most common in children)

Influenza vs. cold

We tend to think that flu and a cold are the same, because they have similar symptoms; however, flu can lead to much more serious health problems, according to the government of Ontario (Canada) website.

When you have a cold, you don’t have a fever or feel fatigue (at least not most of the time). While the flu can cause pneumonia or respiratory failure and even be life-threatening, the only problems from a cold are nasal congestion and earache.

How can it be prevented?

We have said it before and we repeat it now: wash your hands often. It may sound simple and, in fact, it is: washing your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds helps prevent the spread of the virus, which can survive in your hands for up to three hours. That brings us to the next point: don’t touch your face and mouth. Remember those drops we talked about earlier? Then don’t help them get inside you.

Another very important measure to remember is to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. This can prevent the spread of the virus if you have already contracted it. You don’t want to make your whole office sick, do you? And if you’re in the office, get used to cleaning all the surfaces you’ve used. So, whether you have the virus -show symptoms or not- you’re not passing it on to other people.

Finally, if you are sick, do your classmates a favor and stay home. Take advantage of those free days to rest a lot.

How is the disease treated?

If you have the flu, the best treatment is to stay home and rest. That’s a great excuse to watch Stranger Things season two again.

The Ontario government recommends drinking plenty of fluids – preferably water and avoiding caffeine and alcohol -, using a hot water bottle or heating pad to relieve muscle pain, taking a hot bath, sucking pills to relieve sore throat, or using a stuffy nose spray. If you want to take a painkiller, talk to your doctor first so he or she can recommend a medicine that works for you.

When should I consider seeing a doctor?

Talking about doctors… if after a few days you don’t feel better, your symptoms worsen or you belong to one of the high-risk groups (elderly, pregnant women, children or people with respiratory illnesses), make an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible.

Who should get a flu shot?

Everyone over six months of age should be vaccinated against the flu, but there are certain groups of people who should be required to do so because they are at higher risk for serious health problems if they get it. These groups are the elderly, people with a weak immune system, and pregnant women.

Not only are these people more susceptible to contracting the virus, but their effects can also be more severe. With age, there comes a point where the immune system begins to weaken. The elderly are more susceptible than the young, so anyone aged 55 to 60 should be vaccinated. “The problem with children and the elderly is that, if you get the flu, the consequences can be much more severe because of a weak immune system,”says Halifax Citizen Adam Somers, a pharmacist at Almon Street Shoppers Drug Mart in Halifax, Canada.

Somers also points out that it is advisable for pregnant women to get vaccinated. “I always tell people that they can and should not only get vaccinated. It is very important for your immune system, but also for the developing fetus. Many doctors recommend it,”explains the pharmacist.

Where to get vaccinated

You can find the vaccine at most drugstores and you can get it at health centers and your own family doctor.

Flu Vaccine Myths

To begin with, the flu shot won’t make you get the flu. The most that can happen to a person who gets the vaccine is that they experience discomfort, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the injection site, the CDC says. Other side effects may include low fever and headache or muscle aches.

Second, getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you’re safe for the rest of your life. You should get a flu shot every year before the season starts, even if the virus hasn’t changed.

“This is because a person’s immunity from the vaccine is reduced over time, so an annual vaccine is needed to get optimal protection against the flu,”says the CDC.

Finally, you should get a flu shot even if you are a healthy adult. This virus can affect anyone regardless of their health status. Put it this way: not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re also protecting others by not spreading the disease to them.

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