Influenza ("flu") is caused by a respiratory virus that spreads during the winter months. Influenza causes symptoms that include fever, body aches, headache, a dry cough, and a sore throat.The symptoms usually start suddenly and are worse the first three or four days of the illness, but it can take one to two weeks to feel completely better. Because the influenza virus changes, there are different strains, or kinds, of the influenza virus every year. This is why there is a new vaccine each fall.

During a typical influenza season, between 10 and 25 percent of Canadians can become ill with influenza. There are two ways to catch influenza:

  1. By breathing in the virus when sharing the same air space as an infected person (i.e., when they cough or sneeze) or,
  2. By touching your eyes, nose or mouth when you have the influenza virus on your hands (i.e., shaking hands or touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs).

The Flu and Seniors

As we age, we are at higher risk of complications from influenza. Also, if you have a chronic health problem or if your immune system is weakened, catching influenza can lead to serious health problems, such as pneumonia, and even death. People over the age of 65 have the highest risk of dying from influenza.

What can you do to stay healthy this influenza season?

You can decrease your chance of catching influenza by following a few simple recommendations:

1) Get your influenza vaccine every year

Get your influenza shot as soon as possible. It is usually offered by late October. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to build protection against influenza. Getting your influenza shot early will make sure you are protected by the time the flu season starts, usually in November or December.

Encourage your friends and family to talk to their health providers about getting the influenza vaccine as well.

2) Wash your hands frequently

Wash your hands often: before and after meals, after using the washroom, and whenever they look dirty. Studies show that washing your hands at least five times a day reduces the number of respiratory infections (colds and flu) people catch.

3) Cover your coughs and sneezes and encourage others to do the same

Sneeze or cough into your sleeve. This avoids getting the virus on your hands which you may then pass to someone else.

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