Family Health Magazine - prevention
The Flu and You
After the H1N1 pandemic
The World Health Organization has declared the 2009 H1N1 pandemic to be largely over. Now, attention is turning to the current fall and winter influenza season. Every year, tens of thousands of Canadians fall ill with influenza. Many die. While last year was a unique ‘pandemic’ year, we expect that the 2010/11 season will be like previous years. With this in mind, reviewing prevention measures can help us to stay healthy.
What is influenza?
This virus, more commonly known as flu, causes respiratory disease in the nose, throat and lungs. It can be passed from person to person. Symptoms include:
- a sudden fever of greater than 38ºC
- dry cough
- general aches and pains
- feeling weak and tired.
These symptoms usually start within four days of being infected. Most healthy people recover from influenza without severe complications.
Keep in mind these important facts about flu:
- Infected people can pass on the virus from the day before they have the first symptoms until at least five to seven days after symptoms start.
- As with other viral illnesses, antibiotics do not work against a flu virus. In very select cases, antiviral medications may be used to treat or prevent influenza.
- Various strains of flu virus circulate throughout the world, changing slightly from year to year.
- Seasonal influenza most often circulates in Canada during winter months, usually between November and April.
We can all do a few simple things to ward off influenza and stay healthy over the winter. Since influenza is spread by contact with infected surfaces, wash your hands often. Soap and water is best, but hand sanitizer is a good alternative if you are not near a sink. Flu also spreads in droplets, so if you are sick, cover your cough (and wash your hands). Keep your body healthy to give it the best chance at fighting off infection. Exercise, eat nutritious food and stay well-rested.
Perhaps the easiest way to protect yourself from influenza is to get immunized. As the circulating virus changes each year, annual vaccination is needed. For the 2010/11 season, the three-part influenza vaccine will include the H1N1 part from 2009, as it likely will continue to circulate this winter.
This year, the Canadian government has recommended that the seasonal influenza vaccine can be given to everyone over the age of six months. Practically everyone is encouraged to receive it.
Due to the risks of further problems linked to influenza, several categories of people should be vaccinated.
- adults, including pregnant women, and children who have chronic health conditions like cardiac illness, diabetes, pulmonary (lung) disease (asthma, COPD), renal (kidney) disease, obesity, and blood disorders
- everyone living in a nursing home or chronic care facility
- everyone over age 65
- healthy children between six months and four years of age
- healthy pregnant women.
To reduce the chances of spreading illness to others, health care workers and anyone normally around people with flu should also be vaccinated.
All of us want to stay healthy this winter. Even after the H1N1 pandemic, we need to think about influenza and its effects. Staying healthy and being vaccinated are two easy ways to avoid getting sick with influenza. Check with your doctor or public health department to learn where the seasonal vaccine will be offered this year.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [PR_FHd10]