Influenza (the flu) – What can you do?
Influenza and self-care explained in plain language
What is influenza (the flu)?
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.|
|George coughs into his hand. Then he touches a doorknob. Now the flu virus is on the doorknob.|
|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.|
|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.|
Symptoms – How will you feel?
How do people feel when they have the flu?
Most people have these symptoms:
|A dry cough
|An aching body
|Very weak and tired
Sometimes adults have other symptoms too. For example:
A baby might also cry more than usual.
Are you contagious?
When can you pass the flu to other people?
The flu is different from a cold and the stomach flu
Some cold symptoms:
Some stomach upset symptoms:
The flu can be serious
The flu can be dangerous for some people.
- People die from the flu every year.
The flu is more serious for some groups of people:
- Children 5 years old and younger;
- Pregnant women;
- Aboriginal peoples;
- People with serious health problems.
How to protect yourself and others
1. 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:
- 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
2. 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.
When 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.
|2. Rub on regular soap. Lather well.|
|3. Rub your hands together for about 15 seconds. Rub all parts of your hands and wrists.|
|4. Rinse well under warm, running water.|
|5. Dry your hands with a clean towel.|
3. Cover your cough
Cough or sneeze into your sleeve if you don't have a tissue.
If you use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in the garbage.
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
- 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
Be prepared. What will you need if you or someone in your family gets the flu?
- Medicine for a fever, throat lozenges;
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.
|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.|
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.
For 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
|For a dry cough
Sometimes a cough can keep you awake at night.
For a sore throat
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:
Some people should always see their doctor if they get the flu.
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.
- Phone Health Link at 811 for help and information.
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.
- Never give acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin®) to children or teenagers who might have the flu or who have a fever.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Read The Flu and You – October 2008
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.
- Read the pandemic planning guide – October 2008