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Tips for staying healthy in cold and flu season

Written by: Harpreet Agand

As temperatures dip in fall and winter, the risk of catching a cold or getting the flu increases. That’s why it’s important to practise a healthy lifestyle year-round and particularly during cold and flu season, which can last from November to April. Keeping your immune system healthy is a powerful defence to prevent and fight off sickness. Following these simple tips can help:

What else can I do to protect against cold and flu?

Both colds and flu (influenza) are caused by contagious viruses but unlike the common cold, the flu can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. Many of the ways to protect yourself are the same, but in the case of the flu, health experts say getting vaccinated is the single most important thing you can do.

 Who should get the flu vaccine?

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccination unless you have serious allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine, except eggs; have experienced a serious allergic reaction from a previous flu shot; or developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu shot.  The flu shot is particularly important for people at risk of developing severe complications from the flu including:

The flu shot is also recommended for health and other care providers who are in contact with those at risk of complications from the flu. It is possible to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Even if you don’t exhibit symptoms, you can still carry and spread the flu virus to others.  The flu shot is different each year because the virus changes frequently so you need to get it every fall. It takes 2 weeks to take effect. Although it’s best to get your flu shot in October or November, you can still get it into January.

What other tips can help me avoid getting or spreading a cold or the flu?

 Wash your hands often

Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze

Don’t touch your face

Stay at home when you’re sick

Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items

Limit contact with people who are ill

If someone in your family gets the flu:

How will I know if I have the flu or just a bad cold?

The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar. A cold generally causes sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and a runny nose. The flu tends to involve the whole body and not just the head. Symptoms include chills, body aches, chest discomfort, joint pain and muscle pain. The flu generally comes on faster and is more severe than a cold.

This chart* can help determine if you have a cold or the flu.

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rare Common, high (102°F – 104°F or 39°C – 40°C). Starts suddenly, lasts 3 to 4 days. Not all people with flu get a fever
General aches and pains Sometimes, mild Common, often severe
Muscle aches Sometimes, usually mild Often, can be severe
Feeling tired and weak Sometimes, mild Common, may last 2 to 3 weeks or more
Fatigue (extreme tiredness) Unusual Common, starts early
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Complications Can lead to sinus congestion or earache Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, worsen a current chronic respiratory condition, be life-threatening
Chest discomfort and/or coughing Sometimes, mild to moderate Common, can become severe

What should I do if I get the flu?

 Treatments for a cold and the flu are fairly similar:

 Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if:

Stay home and rest up when you’re under the weather with a cold or the flu. But if you must go out in public, practise extra courtesy around others.  Your Bayshore caregiver can help with caring for you, meal preparation and other housekeeping tasks. 

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