Influenza (or flu) is a common respiratory illness affecting millions of Canadians each year. Getting an influenza vaccination (or flu shot) every year can help prevent the infection or reduce the severity of the illness. Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Various strains of the virus circulate throughout the world year-round, causing local outbreaks. Although most of these people recover completely, an estimated 500-1500 Canadians, die every year from pneumonia related to flu and many others may die from other serious complications of flu.
The influenza virus spreads through droplets that have been coughed or sneezed into the air by someone who has the flu. You can get the flu by breathing in these droplets through your nose or mouth, or by the droplets landing directly on your eyes. The flu virus is also found on the hands of people with the flu and on surfaces they have touched. You can become infected if you shake hands with infected persons or touch contaminated surfaces and transfer the virus to your own eyes, nose, or mouth.
Many people use the terms “flu” or “stomach flu” to describe other illnesses that may be a cold or a mild case of food poisoning. There is no such thing as “stomach flu.” A true case of influenza typically starts with a headache, chills, and cough, which are followed rapidly by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and throat irritation. Children may have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but these symptoms are uncommon in adults. Most people recover within a week or ten days. However, some are at greater risk for more severe and longer-lasting complications, such as pneumonia. The groups at greater risk include very young children, people over 65, and people who already have medical conditions, such as chronic respiratory disease, heart or kidney disease, diabetes or a depressed immune system because of cancer, HIV infection, or some other cause.
The most effective way to protect yourself from flu is to be vaccinated each year in the fall. Flu shots are especially important for:
- adults and children with chronic heart and lung disease
- anyone living in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
- people 65 years of age and older
- people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, immune suppression, HIV, or kidney disease
- children and adolescents on long term acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) therapy
- health care workers, other caregivers, and household contacts capable of transmitting influenza to the above at-risk groups
- people at high risk of influenza complications who are traveling to areas where the flu virus is likely to be circulating.
Certain groups should not be vaccinated. These include children less than six months of age and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of the vaccine. Always consult with your family doctor or public health for specific guidance to your medical needs or requirements as it pertains to vaccinations.
Regular hand washing is another way to help minimize your risk. By washing your hands often, you will reduce your chance of becoming infected after touching contaminated surfaces. Wearing a mask in crowded public places can help. The benefits of flu shots far outweigh the risks. The primary reason to get a flu shot is to protect yourself from health effects related to flu. Saskatchewan Health Authority states flu vaccine will be available across Saskatchewan While you are getting your flu shot consider getting your COVID booster too. New also is the RSV vaccination. If you are wondering what is right for you or how to get your vaccinations, please consult the SHA public health folks. Please visit your local pharmacy or contact public health for a list of clinics and times in your local area. If you have any questions about your health and this is not a medical emergency, please call 8-1-1. Get your flu shot!
Wishing everyone a family filled Thanksgiving weekend! Have some wonderful family time and safe travels!