Influenza (the flu) – What can you do?

Influenza and self-care explained in plain language

What is influenza (the flu)?

Image of man sick in bed

George is sick. He has the flu.

Every year, many people get sick with the seasonal flu.

  • In Canada, people usually get the flu between November and April.

A virus causes the flu. There are different types of flu viruses. For example: Type A and Type B.

  • These viruses are always changing.
  • They are too small to see.

How do I get the flu?

How does the flu spread?

The flu is passed from person to person in different ways. For example:

George has the flu. The flu virus goes into the air when he coughs, sneezes or talks. If people are nearby, the virus can enter their eyes, nose and mouth. Image of virus being spread by coughing
George coughs into his hand. Then he touches a doorknob. Now the flu virus is on the doorknob. Image of virus being spread via door handle
Later, Geetha touches the doorknob. The virus gets on her hand. The virus gets into her body when she touches her nose. A few days later, Geetha gets sick with the flu. Image of virus spread via handle then touching face
Geetha passes the flu virus to her daughter Sonia. Soon Sonia gets the flu. She can spread the virus to her classmates if she goes to school with the flu. Image of virus spread to classmates

Symptoms – How will you feel?

How do people feel when they have the flu?

Most people have these symptoms:

A fever
  • The fever is often 38 C (100.4 F) or higher.
  • It starts suddenly.
  • It usually goes down in 3–5 days.
Image of man checking body temperature
A dry cough
  • The cough can last for a few weeks.
image of man coughing into a tissue.
An aching body
  • People have aches and pains. For example: in their head, legs and lower back.
Image of man displaying head pain
Very weak and tired
  • People feel too weak to do anything.
  • They don’t want to get out of bed.
Image of man displaying weakness

Other Symptoms

Sometimes adults have other symptoms too. For example:

  • The chills (you feel cold)
  • A sore throat
  • A runny nose
  • No appetite (you don't feel like eating)

A baby might also cry more than usual.

Image of man lying in bed

Are you contagious?

When can you pass the flu to other people?

  • From one day before you have symptoms, until
  • Five (5) days after your symptoms begin.

The flu is different from a cold and the stomach flu

Some cold symptoms:

  • A cold starts slowly;
  • You have a sore throat;
  • You have a runny nose.
image of infant with a cold
image of boy with stomach upset

Some stomach upset symptoms:

  • You feel nauseous (you feel like you will vomit);
  • You vomit (throw up);
  • You have diarrhea.

The flu can be serious

The flu can be dangerous for some people.

Image of woman in bed
  • People die from the flu every year.

The flu is more serious for some groups of people:

  • Children 5 years old and younger;
  • Seniors;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Aboriginal peoples;
  • People with serious health problems.

How to protect yourself and others

Get immunized for influenza1. Get a seasonal flu shot

The seasonal flu shot helps protect people from the flu. The best time to get your seasonal flu shot is from October to mid-November.

It takes about 2 weeks for the seasonal flu shot to protect you.

Did you know?

  • The seasonal flu shot does not give people the flu.
  • Some people have reactions to the seasonal flu shot. For example, their arm gets sore.
  • The seasonal flu shot does not protect people from colds.

Who should get seasonal flu shots?

Everyone older than six months of age should get a flu shot every year, especially:

image of woman with oxygen tube image of older man image of infant

  • People living in group settings such as continuing care and designated assisted living;
  • Adults and children with serious health problems, and the people who live with them;
  • Seniors (people 65 or over);
  • Health care workers;
  • Children 6 months to 5 years old, and their families;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Aboriginal peoples;
  • Individuals who are severely over weight; and
  • All healthy adults.

The seasonal flu shot is free to Albertans over the age of 6 months.

Can other people get a flu shot? Yes, everyone over 6 months of age can get the seasonal flu shot for free.

Where to get flu shots

  • At public health centres — Call to make an appointment. Also watch for flu clinics in the fall.
  • At many doctors’ offices — Call to make an appointment.
  • At some workplaces and pharmacies.

You can get information about flu shots from Health Link at 811

image of hand cleanser2. Clean your hands

The flu virus can live on your hands for 5 minutes. It can live on doorknobs for 1–2 days!

Help protect yourself and other people by cleaning your hands often. Teach young children to wash their hands too.

image of hand soapWhen to clean your hands

  • Before you eat or serve food
  • Before you brush your teeth
  • After you are near a person with the flu
  • After you cough, sneeze or blow your nose

What to use

  • Use regular hand soap and water.
  • Use hand cleanser or sanitizer that has alcohol in it.

How to wash your hands

1. Wet your hands with warm, running water.

image of hand washing 2. Rub on regular soap. Lather well.
3. Rub your hands together for about 15 seconds. Rub all parts of your hands and wrists. image of hand washing
image of hand washing - rinse 4. Rinse well under warm, running water.
5. Dry your hands with a clean towel. image of drying hands

3. Cover your cough

image of man coughing into shirt sleeve

Cough or sneeze into your sleeve if you don't have a tissue.

  • Don't cough into your hand.

If you use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in the garbage.

  • Clean your hands afterwards.
image of man sneezing into tissue

4. Stay home if you are sick

Stay home and rest if you are sick, and don't get close to other people. Stay away from crowds.

5. Other things to do

image of vitamins image of dresser being cleaned
  • Exercise – It helps your body fight flu viruses. Try to walk for 30 minutes most days.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat 5–10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Older adults can take a multivitamin.Stay away from crowds when flu season hits your area.
  • If someone in your home gets the flu, protect other family members.
  • Keep the sick person’s personal things away from other people. Clean areas around the sick person often. You can use dish soap and water.
  • Have family members stay at least 1 metre (3 feet) away from the sick person.

6. Plan ahead

image of digital thermometerimage of box of facial tissuesBe prepared. What will you need if you or someone in your family gets the flu?

  • Thermometer;
  • Medicine for a fever, throat lozenges;
  • Tissues.

Check the expiry dates on your medicine. Don't use medicine after its expiry date. Date example: Exp AU 09

Do you take care of another person? Who can take care of that person if you get the flu?

7. Call your doctor

Call your doctor if you have a new cough and fever. Tell them if you have been to a place that has the virus or if you have been in close contact with someone who has been sick with the flu.

What to do if you get the flu

How to take care of yourself

Rest and get lots of sleep.

Try to stay away from other people for 7 days after you get your first symptoms.

image of girl drinking Drink extra water, tea and juice. Chicken soup can help too.
Use a humidifier. It puts water in the air. Clean the humidifier every day. image of humidifier

image of man gargling


Gargle with warm salt water if you have a sore throat. Mix 1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt with 1 cup (250 mL) warm water.

Take a sip. Gargle for 10 seconds. Then spit out the water. Repeat 4 or 5 times per day.

image of man spitting out gargle

image of nasal sprayFor a stuffy nose, use salt-water nose drops or mist. For example: Salinex®.

You can also make nose drops. Mix 1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt with 1 cup (250 mL) boiled water. Cool. Keep in a clean container. Use drops about 3 times per day.

Note: Nasal means nose.

Over-the-counter medicine for adults

Over-the-counter medicine can help you feel better if you have the flu.

  • You don’t need a prescription.

Try to use medicine that treats only one symptom at a time. For example:

For fever and body aches
  • Use acetaminophen. Look for Tylenol® or another brand.


image of medice bottle
  • Use ibuprofen. Look for Advil®, Motrin® or another brand.
image of medicine bottle
For a dry cough

Sometimes a cough can keep you awake at night.

  • Try cough syrup with dextromethorphan (DM).
image of lozenge box

For a sore throat

  • Use throat lozenges. They help numb the throat. Look for lozenges with dyclonine. For example: Sucrets®.


Follow the instructions for medicine carefully.

  • If you have questions, talk to a pharmacist or call Health Link at 811. Tell them all the medicine you are taking. For example:
    • Over-the-counter medicine;
    • Prescriptions; or
    • Traditional medicine (herbs).

Ask about side effects. For example, a medicine might irritate your stomach.

  • Keep all medicine away from children.

When to go to the doctor

If your symptoms are getting worse or you ar not recovering, call Health Link at 811 for medical advice or your doctor for an appointment.

If your symptoms become severe, go to an emergency centre right away.

For example, go to emergency if you have:

  • Problems breathing;
  • Pain in your chest; or
  • A high fever that does not get better after 3–4 days.

Some people should always see their doctor if they get the flu.

  • For example, a person with heart or lung disease.

If you do not know what to do, talk to a nurse at Health Link, call 811.

Children and the flu

It can be scary for parents when a child gets the flu.

image of child on toilet with womanFlu symptoms

Children between 6–18 years old often have the same flu symptoms as adults.

Babies and children under six years old can have different symptoms. For example:

  • A baby might cry a lot and have a fever;
  • A young child might feel nauseous (feel like he will vomit). He might vomit and have diarrhea.

What to do for a child's fever

  • First, take your child’s temperature. If your child has a fever, use acetaminophen. For example: Tylenol® for babies (infants) and children.
  • Put lightweight clothing on your child. Keep the child’s room at about 20 C.
  • Give water or juice to your child often. Breastfeed babies often.

image of medicine drops image of woman giving infant medicine drops image of children's medicine bottle image of medicine bottle warning


  1. Never give acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin®) to children or teenagers who might have the flu or who have a fever.
  2. Health Canada recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medications should NOT be used in children younger than six years old.

When to see a doctor

Some children should see a doctor when they have the flu. For example:

  • A baby less than 3 months old;
  • A child with heart problems.

Go to an emergency centre if your child's symptoms get worse. For example:

  • Your child has trouble breathing (not a stuffy nose);
  • You can’t wake up your child.

Contact Health Link

If your symptoms are getting worse or you are not recovering, call Healh Link at 811 for medical advice.

  • Health Link is a free service – Call 811
  • You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • You can get health information and advice.

Talk to a nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) answer the phones. You can ask questions about the flu. For example:

  • You can describe symptoms.
  • Then ask what to do.

image of woman calling Health Link image of Health Link nurse

Help in other languages

Health Link has interpreters. They speak different languages. An interpreter can be on the phone with you and the nurse.

  • Call Health Link at 811. Say: “I speak _________. I need an interpreter.”

Call Health Link

  • New number is 811
  • Sometimes you have to wait a few minutes to talk to the nurse. Sometimes you have to leave a message, and the nurse calls you back.
  • Your call is confidential. This means the nurse will not tell anyone what you say.

Important note:

  • Health Link does not replace your family doctor.
  • Call 911 if you have a medical emergency. Or go to the nearest emergency centre.

The Flu and You! Don’t let the flu get you down!

The Flu and You booklet gives tips for inner city residents, their friends and families on how to stay healthy during the influenza (flu) season. It is an important prevention tool that can be applied to all similar communities/organizations. It also supports pandemic response across Alberta, both within and outside the health sector.

Planning for pandemic – Influenza pandemic preparedness for inner city agencies

Each year, influenza, commonly called the flu, affects the health of the population and places a strain on the health-care system. Organizations that routinely work with the street-involved populations are significantly affected by seasonal influenza. These organizations would also be challenged to provide services to this high-risk group during pandemic.

The Planning for Pandemic guide is for inner city non-profit organizations to help with their influenza pandemic planning initiatives. Topics include planning considerations for the three stages of a pandemic, and useful checklists for agencies and individuals/families to help get prepared.