What is the flu?
"The flu," more properly known as seasonal influenza, is a common and very contagious infection. The flu affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is spread through droplets that have been coughed or sneezed by someone who has the flu. You can get the flu by shaking hands with someone who has the flu or by touching surfaces that have come into contact with flu droplets, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Flu symptoms include a sudden fever or feeling feverish as well as a cough and/or a sore throat. It is common to also have a runny or stuffy nose, head- or body-aches, and chills.  You may feel more tired than usual and have a lower appetite. Some people (mostly children) also have nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Children aged 6 to 9 years are called the "big spreaders" of the flu. They will often spread the virus to their families. Children under 5 years old have higher rates of serious illness from flu. Pregnant women are more at risk of flu-related complications. This is why it is important for families to get their flu vaccine.

What can I do to prevent the flu?
Your best shot at beating the flu is by getting your flu vaccine. The earlier you get the vaccine, the better your chances are to prevent it. The flu is a serious viral infection that can have severe complications. The flu is not just a cold. Anyone can get the flu virus.

The flu vaccine helps your body help itself. The vaccine will trigger your body to fight off infection if you come into contact with the flu. This means you either will not get the flu, or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. Different flu viruses can affect people every year, so the vaccine needs to be updated annually. This is why it is important to be immunized each fall.

This year's flu vaccines for adults protect against three different flu viruses: two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and one influenza B virus. This year's flu vaccines for children 6 months to 17 years of age protects against the same three flu viruses as for adults, plus an additional influenza B virus; this is because the burden of disease due to influenza B is higher in children than adults.

Available again this year as part of Ontario's publicly funded program is a nasal spray vaccine. It is a needle-free way of receiving the flu vaccine. It has been approved for people aged 2 to 17 years. A fine mist is sprayed into your nose rather than getting a needle. Both the injection vaccine (6 months to 17 years) and the nasal spray vaccine (2 years to 17 years) will protect against four strains of the flu virus.

Getting your flu vaccine is good for everyone. When more people get their flu vaccine, the odds of the flu virus spreading goes down. This protects those who are most vulnerable such as children under five, adults 65 years or older, pregnant women, as well as those living with chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. The flu shot prevents about 300 deaths and 1,000 hospitalizations each year in Ontario.

You can also stop the spread of the flu by following a few easy steps.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your arm, not your hand.
  • Avoid crowds, public gatherings and stay at home if you are sick.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
The flu vaccine has been proven to be safe for anyone 6 months of age or older. Children under 5 years old have the highest rate of serious illness from flu, which means it is even more important for them to get the flu vaccine. Children aged 6 to 9 years have the highest rate of flu. They are considered to be the "big spreaders." Get your child the flu vaccine as early as possible to protect your family.
Where can I get my flu vaccine?

It is easier than ever to get your flu vaccine. Anyone aged six months and older who lives, works or attends school in Ontario is eligible to receive the publicly funded flu vaccine.

You can get your flu vaccine from: 

  • Your primary care provider or family doctor
  • Your local pharmacist
  • Ottawa Public Health has flu clinicsincluding special clinics for children under 5 years old and their families. The under 5 clinics are by appointment only. Please, call the Ottawa Public Health Information Centre at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656). No appointments are needed for community flu clincis.
What is the difference between a cold and flu?
 Many people confuse the terms "cold" and "flu." Influenza (flu) is a serious viral infection. The flu is not just a cold. You could miss school, work, parties, holidays, or even end up in the hospital. Below is a list of common symptoms of the flu compared with a common cold.



Influenza (Flu)



Usually high
Last 3-4 days



Can be severe


Aches & Pain

Often severe



Moderate to severe
Can last up to 1 month

Not common

Extreme fatigue

Can be severe

Not common

Sniffles or Sneezes



Sore throat




Can be severe

Mild to moderate


Pneumonia or worsening
of underlying medical conditions
which can be life-threatening

Sinus or ear infection


What can I do to ease symptoms if I have the flu?

If you or your child has flu-like symptoms, including a fever, a cough, severe headache and/or chills, the best thing to do is:

  • Rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Take basic pain or fever relievers.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Gargle with a glass of warm water or suck on hard candy or lozenges.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
If I have the flu, when should I call my doctor?

Contact your doctor if symptoms are severe and do not improve after a few days.

Call your health care provider right away if you have flu symptoms and you:

  • Have a child under three months of age who has a fever over 38° C or 100.4° F
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a chronic health problem that requires regular medical attention
  • Have an illness or are receiving treatments - for example, for diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS - that might affect your immune system

There are many ways to get non-emergency medical care. Trained professionals from Telehealth Ontario and the Ottawa Public Health Information line can answer your questions by phone, and family doctors, nurses and other health care providers can provide care.

For the latest public health information, you can contact Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-PARENTS [613-727-3687] (TTY: 613-580-9656) or on Facebook and Twitter (@ottawahealth). To reach Telehealth Ontario, call 1-866-797-0000






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