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The truth about the flu

Getting over influenza starts with being sure you have the virus, and not the common cold. Though the best treatment is prevention through vaccination, if you’re already sick, there are clear paths for treatment and avoiding the greatest risks and complications.

If you have ever had the flu, you know how much it can affect your well-being. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. For most of us, it’s a deeply unpleasant illness that we get over with rest and minimal treatment, but it can have serious and even deadly consequences for children or older people, and others at higher risk. It is also a disease surrounded by false beliefs that can affect your ability to prevent and treat it effectively. When you have the facts, getting the flu doesn’t need to ruin your winter.

Once you know you have the flu, there’s a clear and straightforward way to get better.

Understanding the Flu

How do I tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

a cup, tissues and a pair of glasses

You know you’re sick, that much is obvious. But is it a cold or is it a flu? And what should you do to be sure?

Symptoms Cold Flu (influenza)
Fever Rare Usual, high fever (39°C [102°F] to 40°C [104°F]), sudden, lasting 3 to 4 days
Headaches Rare Usual, sometimes strong
Widespread pain Sometimes, light Usual, often acute
Fatigue and weakness Sometimes, light Usual, 2 to 3 weeks or more
Extreme fatigue Rare Usual, early onset (from the beginning)
Runny nose, stuffy nose Common Common
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Sore throat Common Common

The science of the flu
There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Influenza A and B viruses are the most common cause of seasonal influenza outbreaks in humans , and the emergence of a new and different influenza A virus that infects people can cause an influenza pandemic. Typically, type C influenza causes only minor respiratory diseases (not an epidemic), and influenza D mainly affects animals and does not infect humans.

Type A influenza viruses are classified into subtypes depending on two viral proteins, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 18 subtypes of hemagglutinins (H1 to H18) and 11 subtypes of neuraminidase (N1 to N11) and multiple combinations of the two proteins.

The most common influenza A viruses causing outbreaks in humans are influenza A(H1N1 ) and influenza A(H3N2). Influenza B viruses are not subdivided into subtypes but into lineages named after the geographical area where they were first observed (Yamagata, Victoria, Brisbane, etc.)

Over time, variation of strains within an influenza A subtype or B lineage occurs. That is why seasonal influenza vaccines must be reformulated annually.

Complications

The flu can cause certain complications:

  • Dehydration, due to sweating caused by fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Otitis

For people considered more vulnerable, certain complications can lead to hospitalization and even death. Any person of the following categories should seek professional medical advice as soon as flulike symptoms are observed:

  • Children under 5 years of age
  • People with chronic diseases
  • Pregnant women
  • Women who have given birth within the last 4 weeks
  • People 75 or older

How we get the flu

Transmission

The flu virus thrives best in cool and dry areas. It can live up to 2 days on contaminated objects and up to 5 minutes on the skin. It is transmitted quickly from one person to another through:

  • Droplets propelled into the air from the mouth or nose of a person infected with the flu who coughs or sneezes
  • Direct contact with the nose or throat secretions of a person infected with the flu, for example by kissing that person
  • Contact between your hand and your nose, mouth or eyes, after shaking the hand of an infected person or touching contaminated objects

A person infected with the flu virus can be contagious 24 hours before symptoms and up to 7 days after symptoms start , and sometimes even a little longer. Young children and the elderly can be contagious up to 14 days after the onset of symptoms.

Prevention

Even though the efficacy of vaccination varies from year to year (30 - 70%), getting vaccinated still remains the best prevention against the flu. Some protective and hygienic measures can also help prevent the transmission of the flu, as they can with many contagious diseases, such as washing your hands often , and cleaning your immediate surroundings (surface of furniture and counters). It has also been shown that running a humidifier may help reduce the influenza virus survival rate.

By getting vaccinated, you protect yourself against serious illnesses. Have it done quickly and efficiently at a Biron Service Center.

I have the flu. How do I get over it?

Even if you’ve worked through the checklist and you’re not 100% sure that what you have is the flu, if you are feverish consider staying as soon as you start experiencing flulike symptoms . If you need to go outside, consider wearing a facemask to limit the spread of the virus. If you don’t have a fever but have a blocked or runny nose and a cough, just rest – it’s likely a cold. If you develop a sudden fever (higher than 39°C) as well as a sudden cough, sore throat, muscle or joint pain, fatigue or a headache, it’s probably the flu and you can likely treat yourself at home. If you are in any way uncertain, in Québec you can call Info Santé 811 for telephone consultation.

If you or a relative is in a high risk category (younger than 6 months old or aged 75 and over, pregnant women in the 2nd or 3rd trimester, people with chronic disease), you should seek medical advice as soon as flulike symptoms appear.

Is there anything I can take?
For mild symptoms, if you’re not in a high risk category, rest up and stay hydrated. You can aid recovery by drinking a lot of liquids. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages as these will make you urinate and increase loss of fluid.

Treatment of the flu itself, in its non-severe form, requires rest and no prescription medication. You may, however, take over the counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve fever and pain. Be sure to take these according to instruction, and don’t mix and match – look carefully at the ingredients of any “cold and flu” medications to ensure you are not doubling up on a particular medication.

My flu is getting more serious or symptoms aren’t going away
If you or a relative present a fever rising or that has lasted for more than 5 days, or have symptoms that have not improved after 7 days, a health professional should be consulted without delay. If any of the following symptoms is present, go to the emergency department of a hospital immediately. Call 911 if you require assistance:

  • Breathing difficulty that persists or worsens
  • Blue lips
  • Intense chest pain
  • Intense headache that persists or worsens
  • Drowsiness, difficulty staying awake, weakness
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Seizures (body stiffens and muscles contract in a jerky and involuntary manner)
  • No urination for 12 hours, excessive thirst
  • Fever in a child who appears very sick, lacks energy and refuses to play
  • Fever in a baby less than 3 months old

For more information on the flu:

Health Canada

Immunize Canada

If you have any questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to call our customer service number at 1 833 590-2715.

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