Your Seasonal Flu Guide

What is the seasonal flu?

  • Seasonal influenza, or the seasonal flu, is a common and highly contagious respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat and lungs
  • The flu strains change from year-to-year, that’s why it is important to get an annual flu shot
  • Full protection against the flu takes about two weeks from the time you get the shot and lasts about six months
  • In Canada, the flu season typically occurs between November and April
  • Most people recover from the flu in about a week, but some people – including infants, children, adults and the elderly with chronic health conditions (such as diabetes and cancer) – are at greater risk of serious complications such as pneumonia
  • Yearly exposure to existing strains of the flu provides some levels of immunity to seasonal flu

Did you know?

Seasonal influenza is a serious illness that infects millions of Canadians every year.

What is the difference between seasonal flu and a cold?

Everyone is at risk of catching the flu virus – even healthy, young adults. While symptoms may vary from person to person, they may include the following:

  Seasonal flu Common cold
What is it? Influenza, or the flu, is a common and highly contagious, infectious respiratory disease that affects the nose, throat and lungs.
Influenza viruses can change rapidly.  That’s why there is a new flu shot made every year to protect against the circulating virus strains.
A cold is a mild infection of the nose and throat caused by a variety of viruses.
Although a cold might linger, the symptoms remain mild.
Symptoms Almost Always Common Sometimes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Sudden onset of cough and fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you develop the following symptoms, you should see a healthcare provider right away:

  • Shortness of breath, rapid or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish or grey skin color
  • Bloody or coloured mucus/spit
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • High fever lasting more than three days
  • Low blood pressure

Additional symptoms to watch for in children include:

  • Not drinking enough fluids or eating
  • Not waking up or interacting
  • Irritability (not wanting to play or be held)

How is seasonal flu different from an influenza pandemic?

An influenza pandemic is declared when a new strain of flu virus emerges that has never been seen before and begins to spread quickly around the world. For example, in June 2009 the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 flu virus outbreak a pandemic. This was a new strain of influenza and, because people had little to no natural immunity, it had the potential to cause serious and widespread illness.

Did you know?

It is estimated that 2,000 to 8,000 people – mostly seniors, children and those with chronic health problems – die each year from seasonal influenza.

Who is more at risk of complications from the flu?

The following groups are not more likely to get the flu. However, they are more at risk of developing complications or requiring hospitalization if they do get sick. An annual flu shot is recommended for people in these groups.

  1. Adults and children with the following chronic health conditions1:
    • Heart disease
    • Lung disorders (including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis and asthma)
    • Diabetes and other metabolic diseases
    • Cancer and immune compromising conditions (due to underlying disease and/or medical treatment)
    • Kidney disease
    • Blood disorders such as anemia or hemoglobinopathy
    • Conditions that make it difficult to swallow properly or keep the airways clear of mucus
    • Morbid obesity (Body Mass Index over 40)
    • Children and adolescents with conditions treated for long periods with acetylsalicylic acid
  2. All children 6 to 59 months of age
  3. Healthy pregnant women (important to know: the risk of hospitalization for complications of influenza increases in each trimester of pregnancy)
  4. Aboriginal peoples
  5. People of any age who are residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities
  6. People 65 years of age and older

1 National Advisory Committee on Immunization Statement 2012

What is an antiviral?

Antivirals are prescription medications used to treat viral illnesses, including the flu. If taken shortly after getting sick (within the first 24 to 48 hours), they can reduce flu symptoms, shorten the length of illness and may reduce serious complications.

If you have flu symptoms and you have one of these risk factors, contact your healthcare provider to determine if antiviral medications are recommended.