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 contain  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 in schools and daycares are at risk for getting the flu as they have close contact with one another during the day. Children under 5 years old have higher rates of serious illness from flu. Pregnant people are more at risk of flu-related complications. Therefore, it is important for families to get their flu vaccine.

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.

What can I do to prevent the flu?

The flu vaccine helps your body help itself. The vaccine will trigger your body to fight off infection if you encounter 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.

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 people, as well as those living with chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.  The flu shot reduces the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu. 

In addition to getting your flu vaccine, you can help stop the spread of the flu, and protect yourself & your family by following a few easy steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you are sick, stay at home
  • Do not visit hospitalized patients or residents of retirement homes or long-term care homes if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
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 a high rate of serious illness from flu, which means it is even more important for them to get the flu vaccine. Children in schools and daycares are at risk for getting and spreading the flu as they have close contact with one another during the day. Get your child the flu vaccine as early as possible to protect your family.

Where can I get my flu vaccine?

Starting in November the flu vaccine is available across Ottawa.

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 (for individuals 5 years of age and older)
  • Ottawa Public Health community flu clinics serve individuals of all ages from 6 months of age and up. No appointments are needed for community flu clinics.
  • Ottawa Public Health also offers additional clinics for children 5 years old and under, and their families. The clinics are by appointment only. Please, call the Ottawa Public Health Information Centre at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) to book an appointment.
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.
If I have the flu, when should I call my doctor?

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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