Five common flu questions answered

This week’s guest blogger is Dr. Sergio Borgia, Osler’s Medical Director and Corporate Division Head of the Infectious Diseases and Infection Prevention & Control Program.

Flu season is back again. Year after year, this persistent virus just can’t seem to take the hint to stay away. And while the strain may sometimes be difficult to predict, the timing of its arrival is not.


Dr. Sergio Borgia

When the leaves start to fall and the days get colder, you can be sure the flu is not far behind, ready to wreak havoc on our immune system.

While we don’t have the power to prevent the flu from making its annual winter-time trip to our homes, schools, and hospitals, there are things we can do to lessen its impact.

In this blog, Dr. Borgia answers five questions about the flu – information he hopes will keep you, your family, and your community healthy and safe this flu season.

1. What is the flu and why does it have its own season?

Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu” is a respiratory illness, with or showing signs of a fever, caused by the Influenza virus. Interestingly, the flu circulates all year long, but peaks in the winter months around the world for reasons not well understood.

2. How does the flu spread?

The Influenza virus spreads through sneezing and coughing, when infected and uninfected people are in close proximity, usually within several feet of each other. The risk of transmission varies with the proximity and length of time exposed.

3. How can I protect myself – and others – from getting the flu?

The three simplest and most effective protective measures are:
• Get a yearly flu shot.
• Wash your hands well and often with soap.
• Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue, rather than a cloth hankie, or cough into your sleeve in the crook of your arm.

4. What’s the difference between the flu and a common cold?

Flu – the flu is caused by the influenza virus and can cause abrupt, severe and debilitating symptoms that include:
• fever
• cough and chest discomfort
• muscle aches and pain
• extreme fatigue and weakness
• headaches
• Some people are more vulnerable than others to the flu – babies, young children, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions. For them, the flu can be very serious and sometimes even deadly

Common cold – a cold is caused by another virus, rhinovirus, and tends to cause much milder and shorter illness with a gradual onset, consisting of:
• sore throat
• sinus congestion
• sneezing

5. I’ve got the flu, now what?

If you get ill with the flu, most people will not require medical care or treatment. Stay hydrated, rest and avoid contact with other people for at least 24 hours after your fever resolves.

Wash your hands well and often with soap and seek medical attention if symptoms of high fever persist or you experience respiratory distress (fast heart rate, difficulty breathing), severe or persistent vomiting, confusion or dizziness. Most people will recover on their own and antiviral medication is only required in special situations.

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