According to health officials, flu season is already off to a mild start in Canada in comparison to last year, which saw as many as 5 to 10 times more detections of cases of influenza and as many as 3,700 confirmed cases of H3N2 and H1N1 in British Columbia – two different strains of the contagious virus. While this certainly comes as good news to many, healthcare professionals are still warning individuals not to be lax when it comes to the flu – because despite the slower start, the flu can still be deadly, especially for those who are considered high-risk (i.e. young children and the elderly.)
The flu is an infection caused by the influenza virus which affects the upper airway. For many, the flu will not cause any additional health problems. However, it can put you at risk of other respiratory-related infections, including pneumonia. That risk also depends on age – for example, if you are over 65 – as well as if you have any pre-existing conditions, such as lung or heart disease, other chronic health issues, or a weak immune system.
If you do happen to develop the flu, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver, says the #1 thing you need to do is make sure you’re getting lots of rest. This will help you recover more quickly, as well as prevent you from spreading the virus to other individuals. Nausea and vomiting is another common symptom of the flu which can lead to dehydration, so you’ll want to try to replenish your fluids by drinking things like water or herbal tea. Things like antibiotics won’t get rid of the flu; however, there are anti-influenza/antiviral medications that your physician can prescribe – but in order for them to work they must be taken within 2 days of you first noticing any flu-like symptoms. You can also take Acetaminophen to help reduce fever, which is another common symptom associated with the flu. If your flu symptoms persist or start to worsen, Dr. Ghahary recommends booking an appointment with your family physician as soon as possible, or visiting your nearest walk-in clinic. If you are vomiting excessively, experiencing severe stomach pain, or can’t keep fluids down at all, then it’s recommended that you go to an emergency room as you may need to be administered fluids intravenously.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for influenza. There is, however, certain precautions you can take to prevent it, which Dr. Ghahary has outlined in previous articles. These precautions include avoiding others whom you know are sick, as well as washing your hands with warm water and soap regularly to prevent the spread of germs. You can also reduce your risk of developing the flu by getting the flu shot. The flu shot is usually available in British Columbia in October, and it’s recommended that you get the vaccination as early as possible to allow your body to build up immunity rather than getting it in the middle of flu season – although you can get the flu shot at any time during flu season. The only time you shouldn’t get the flu shot, says Dr. Ghahary, is if you are already sick with the flu and/or have a high fever. Getting the flu shot when sick can result in longer recovery time, or your body may have a reduced response to the vaccine and it may not be as effective when you really need it to be. If you simply have a common cold and are experiencing symptoms such as nasal congestion or a sore throat, it’s still okay to get the flu shot as your body’s response to it won’t be affected in any way. If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a flu shot then that is another reason to stay away from them. If you’re unsure of whether or not you should get a flu shot, always check with your family doctor or pharmacy first.