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What causes the flu?
The flu is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs. It is caused mainly by 2 types of viruses:
- Influenza A
- Influenza B
What is my risk?
Anyone can get the flu if they are exposed to the virus.
In Canada, your risk of getting the flu is higher in the late fall and winter months. The risk is lower during the rest of the year.
Every year, worldwide outbreaks cause an estimated:
- 1 billion cases of flu
- 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness
- about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths
The flu usually occurs in:
- the northern hemisphere between November and April
- the southern hemisphere between April and October
- tropical countries during the entire year
Some people are more likely to get flu-related complications (like pneumonia) or be hospitalized because of complications. These include:
- people with health conditions (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, obesity)
- people 65 years and older
- people who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
- children under 5 years of age
- pregnant women
- Indigenous peoples
Some people are more likely to spread the flu to those at high risk of complications. They include:
- those who are in close contact with the listed higher risk groups (e.g. family, household members, caregivers)
- those who care for or are expecting a newborn baby during flu season
- health care workers
- child care workers
- those who provide services to people at high risk in closed settings, such as crew on a ship
How is it transmitted?
The flu spreads very easily from person to person. Even before you notice symptoms, you may spread the virus to others. If you have the virus, you can spread it to others by sneezing, coughing or talking.
These actions release tiny droplets containing the flu virus into the air. You can become infected if these droplets land on your nose, mouth, or eyes.
Infection can also happen if you touch any of these body parts after touching objects contaminated by infected droplets (e.g. doorknobs, phones, television remotes, someone's hands).
What are the symptoms?
Flu symptoms usually include the sudden appearance of high fever (39°C and above), cough and muscle aches.
Other common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- fatigue (tiredness)
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
Some people, especially children, may also experience:
- a stomach ache
- nausea and vomiting
It takes 1 to 4 days for flu symptoms to appear after exposure to the virus.
Most people recover from the flu in 7 to 10 days. Others may develop serious complications, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), and may need hospital care.
What is the treatment?
Mild flu symptoms can be treated with rest, fluids, and medicine to reduce any fever or aches
Over-the-counter cough and flu medicine should not be given to children younger than 6 years old. It is only safe to do so if advised by your health care provider.
Your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral drug if you are:
- at high risk for flu-related complications
- sick with more severe symptoms
It is important to start antiviral medication as soon as possible.
Get your annual flu vaccine. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot.
Everyone 6 months and older should get the vaccine. This is especially important for:
- people who are at high risk of complications
- those who are especially capable of spreading the flu to those at higher risk
It is important that you get a new flu vaccine every year because the:
- effectiveness of the vaccine can wear off, so you need a new one every year to stay protected
- type of flu virus usually changes from year to year
- experts create a new vaccine to protect you each flu season
Ask one of Travel Health Consultant about getting the vaccine.