Its official arrival may be December 21, but for Canadians, winter will be here any moment – along with peak cold and flu season.
While there is no vaccine for colds, the annual flu vaccine is proven to be safe and effective. For adults and children over six months of age, annual vaccination significantly reduces the risk of getting the flu and enduring the seven to 14 days of misery that accompany it. Perhaps even more importantly, when you get a flu shot, it helps protect babies less than six months of age, elderly people, and others at higher risk of death caused by serious flu complications. Once enough healthy people are immunized, they create a “herd effect.” The spread of disease is reduced, and viruses are less likely to be passed on to children too young to be vaccinated and others with vulnerable immune systems.
The elderly are most vulnerable to the complications of the flu, accounting for 70 per cent of hospitalizations each year. Seniors have the highest flu vaccination rates, but because their immune systems are less robust, they are much more likely to get the flu despite being vaccinated. However, it is still important for them to get the vaccination shot – studies show that seniors who do get the flu after immunization tend to be less ill, have fewer complications, and are less likely to be hospitalized compared to non-immunized flu sufferers.
In addition to vaccinating yourself against flu viruses each year, you can decrease your risk of getting sick by washing or sanitizing your hands often. Especially in public places, keep your hands away from your nose and eyes as much as possible. To avoid spreading viruses you may have contracted, cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve.
If you do get sick, rest and drink plenty of fluids to help your immune system combat the virus. A fever is a good indicator that you are fighting off something that is contagious to other people, so be sure to stay home if your temperature is higher than normal.
For the elderly, pregnant women, children under age two and people with underlying illnesses such as heart disease or immune system problems, early treatment with antiviral drugs is shown to help prevent serious flu complications. But to work best, they should be taken within the first 24 to 48 hours of symptom onset.
Do you have the flu?
The onset of the flu is generally much more severe and sudden than the onset of a cold, often within half an hour. Symptoms may include fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills and headache. Even otherwise healthy people report that it can feel 'like being hit by a truck,’ with profound fatigue or exhaustion. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, most commonly in children.
It may take up to a week to two weeks before you start feeling better. If you are at high risk for complications, experience severe symptoms or have trouble breathing, get medical help immediately.