With the changing of the season comes the inevitable – flu season! In this article we will discuss what influenza is, how it is spread, and tips you can use to avoid catching and spreading the influenza virus.
Sometimes referred to as “the flu” or “flu”, influenza is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Influenza infections affect people differently. Symptoms may vary from a mild fever through to hospitalization or even potentially death.
There are four types of influenza:
Influenza A and Influenza B: Both of these flus are contagious and are the main flus that are considered seasonal, spreading in the late fall to winter in the U.S.
Influenza C: While still contagious, this flu is milder than Influenza A and Influenza B, and is not thought to be the cause of epidemics.
Influenza D: Does not infect people, but primarily affects cattle.
Each of these influenza viruses can be broken down even further into different lineages and strains. For example, Influenza A has subtypes H1N1, H3N2. In 2009 there was a new Influenza A (H1N1) that made thousands of people very ill, and it was different from the previous strain of Influenza A (H1N1). At the time of this article, there are two lineages of Influenza B: B/Victoria and B/Yamagata.
When is Flu Season?
Flu season normally peaks between December and February, but may very well run through to April or May. People may start seeing flu season begin around October.
How is the Flu Spread?
Believe it or not, you do not need to touch or stand near a person who has the flu in order to catch it. The virus can travel up to six feet should an infected person cough or sneeze. It can also be transmitted by touching a surface that has the active virus on it.
Most people who have the flu are contagious for the first 3-5 days after they have their first symptoms. Some may be contagious even a day or so before having their own symptoms appear.
Who is at Risk for Flu Complications?
There are some people with certain physical or medical conditions that are at higher risk for becoming sick with flu-related complications that may make their chronic health conditions worse. According the Centers for Disease Control this is the list of health and age factors for high risk individuals.
- Neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- People who are obese with a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher
- People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications.
- People with a weakened immune system due to disease (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or some cancers such as leukemia) or medications (such as those receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer, or persons with chronic conditions requiring chronic corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system)
Other people at high risk from the flu:
- Adults 65 years and older
- Children younger than 2 years old1
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- 1 Although all children younger than 5 years old are considered at high risk for serious flu complications, the highest risk is for those younger than 2 years old, with the highest hospitalization and death rates among infants younger than 6 months old.
Protect Yourself against Influenza
- Washing your hands and avoiding crowded areas where you may be exposed to others who are unwell is a first step.
- Avoid touching surfaces touched by people who may be unwell.
- If you are unwell or think you have the flu, stay home to avoid spreading the flu to others
The number one protection against the flu is the flu vaccine. Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine every flu season. Speak to your doctor about the vaccines and any possible side effects.
What to do if you get the flu
If you catch the flu speak to your doctor about antiviral drugs you can take to help reduce your chances of getting flu related complications. Antiviral drugs for the flu work best if started within a couple of days of symptoms appearing.
- Stay home and avoid going to work or going out. Wait until at least 24hours after your fever is gone before venturing out, unless it is to the hospital or to your doctor’s office.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough.
- Wash your hands often with warm soapy water.
- Clean surfaces and objects that you touch.
If you have questions about your prescription medications or any other medication, please contact our team at Canada Online Health by calling toll free 1-800-399-DRUG (3784). One of our patient representatives will be happy to assist you or transfer you to a licensed Canadian pharmacist for a free consultation.
This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor. It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation. If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).