Neha Jayaram, Communications and Marketing Specialist
Influenza, or flu as it is more commonly known, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can range from a mild to severe illness, in some cases causing death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting the flu vaccine every year.
The flu virus is mainly spread by tiny droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people nearby, making them sick. A person may also get the flu by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes, though this is less common.
As mentioned before, flu can cause a mild to severe illness, and sometimes death. The flu is not to be confused with a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- fatigue (tiredness)
- some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Cold vs Flu
Cold and flu can have similar symptoms, but the difference is in how intense they feel. In general, symptoms of flu come on quickly, while symptoms of a cold happen slowly.
How to Prevent Seasonal Flu?
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. It also recommended to follow everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses.
Flu Vaccines – why do you need it and how do they work?
Influenza is a potentially serious disease, causing hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands to tens of thousands of flu-related deaths every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to safeguard yourself from the flu.
A flu vaccine can be an inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4) or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4). Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are used to make the vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
Misconceptions about flu vaccine
- I was vaccinated last year. I don’t need to get it again this year.
Flu viruses change each year. Experts create a new vaccine, based on research to protect you against the 3 to 4 most likely virus strains, each flu season.
I can get the flu from the flu shot.
The viruses in the flu shot are either killed or weakened and cannot give you the flu.
I got the flu shot, there’s no way I can get the flu now.
It’s possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test). This is possible for the following reasons:
- You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect you. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination.)
- You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.
- Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus a flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated.
People don’t die from getting the flu.
The flu is the leading cause of hospitalization and death in Canada7. Those that are most affected are the elderly and people that have heart and lung illnesses, diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, and cancer. It is important that you protect yourself and others around you7.
It’s too late to get the flu shot now.
Getting the flu shot can still be helpful to you as long as the virus is still circulating. It is recommended that you receive the flu shot at the beginning of fall, but if you have not been vaccinated, getting the flu shot can still protect you. The flu season can vary, it usually peaks in January to February, but in some years, it can occur as late as May.
Pregnant women can’t get the flu shot.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization states that healthy pregnant women are priority when it comes to receiving the flu vaccine. The risk of hospitalization due to getting the flu is higher in the third than second trimester.
Can I Get the Flu Vaccine?
People who can get the flu shot:
- Different flu shots are approved for people of different ages. Everyone should get a vaccine that is appropriate for their age.
- There are inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV) that are approved for people as young as 6 months of age.
- Some vaccines are only approved for adults. For example, the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) is approved for people aged 18 years and older, and the adjuvanted and high-dose inactivated vaccines are approved for people aged 65 years and older.
- Pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions can get a flu shot.
- Most people with an egg allergy can get a flu shot.
People who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot:
- Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
- People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients. See Special Considerations Regarding Egg Allergy for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccine.
People who SHOULD talk to their health care provider before getting a flu shot:
If you have one of the following conditions, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help decide whether vaccination is right for you, and select the best vaccine for your situation:
- If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your allergy. See Special Considerations Regarding Egg Allergy for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccine.
- If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
- If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
The flu can be a dangerous disease. Though there are differing opinions on the flu shot, it is the best way to prevent yourself from getting the flu. Even if you do get the flu, it won’t be as bad as if you didn’t have the flu shot.
When we get sick, our body develops antibodies that protect you from the same germs. The vaccine helps your body create antibodies naturally, without you getting sick first.
Where Can I Get the Vaccine?
You can ask your family doctor for your flu shot or check if your local pharmacy has the seasonal flu shot.
The flu shot is also available at our Community Health Centres. We also have the high-dose flu vaccine (not available in pharmacies) for adults 65 years and older that provides better protection against influenza A than the standard vaccine.
Please call one of our clinics to make your appointment OR drop in at any location on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 1pm and 3pm:
- Clinic at 629 Markham Road - 416-847-4101
- Clinic at 2660 Eglinton Ave East - 416-640-7391
- Clinic at 4002 Sheppard Ave East - 416-297-7490
Don't think of it as a shot, think of it as virus protection for your body!