For many Canadians, catching a cold or getting the flu means missing work and important events while we stay at home to recover. Unlike the common cold, the flu can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with underlying health conditions are especially at risk of developing serious complications from the flu.1
While there’s no way to guarantee complete immunity against the flu, there are some preventative steps you can take to protect yourself – and others – from getting sick this flu season.
1. Get the flu shot
According to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the flu shot is your best defence against catching the flu.1 The flu shot is recommended for everyone six months and older and is offered for free from your doctor or nurse practitioner, as well as at participating pharmacies and local public health units across Ontario. The flu shot is updated annually to accommodate for changes in the viral strains that cause the flu, so you will need to get a new flu shot each year. Note that it will take your body approximately two weeks after receiving the flu shot to develop the necessary immune response.
2. Wash your hands
Washing your hands often helps keep the flu virus from spreading. Make sure that you are washing each part of your hands – including under your fingernails, in between your fingers and your wrists – vigorously with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. If soap and water is unavailable, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 pe alcohol content. Rinse your hands thoroughly and dry with a clean paper towel or air dryer.
3. Maintain a healthy immune system
The start of a new year often encourages us to refocus on establishing healthy habits and committing to an all-around healthier lifestyle – making now the perfect time to ensure your immune system is functioning at its best. Try to commit to a healthy sleep schedule, regular exercise and nutritious foods to help keep your immune system strong.
4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
The flu virus can live on hard surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches, for 24 to 48 hours.2 To prevent germs from entering your body, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth until you have the chance to wash them thoroughly.
5. Avoid contact with people who are already sick
The flu can be spread directly through the air or indirectly from contact with shared items and surfaces. If you know somebody who has contracted the flu, try to limit close contact with them while they are contagious. Avoid sharing personal items – such as eating utensils, bedding, towels and wash cloths – and regularly disinfect any shared surfaces.
6. Regularly disinfect common surfaces and shared items
If someone in your home or workplace has the flu, be mindful of any shared surfaces and items you both touch every day.
Examples of common shared surfaces that should be cleaned and disinfected regularly are:
• Door handles
• Light switches
• Computers (including the keyboard and mouse)
• Cutlery and other eating utensils
7. Learn how to recognize flu symptoms
Flu symptoms vary from one person to another, but common signs and symptoms include:3
• Fatigue/feeling weak
• Sore throat
• Muscle aches and pains
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Chest discomfort
If you think you might have the flu, stay home. You will be most contagious one day before the first symptoms appear until approximately five days after. It is in everyone’s best interest for you to avoid contact with others during this contagion period.
8. Know when to visit a doctor
Most often the flu can be treated at home with plenty of bedrest and liquids. However, if you do not notice any signs of recovery within the first few days, or if your symptoms start to get worse, you should consult with your health care provider. If you experience any sudden dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pains or severe vomiting, you should contact a health care provider as soon as possible.
While there’s no guaranteed way to protect yourself from the flu this season, taking the appropriate preventative measures can lessen your chances of contracting it and of spreading it to others.
1. Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
2. Public Health Agency of Canada
3. Canadian Red Cross
4. Public Health Agency of Canada