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Preventing and treating illness

January 08, 2015

Seven simple ways to avoid the flu

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports a spike in the number of flu cases across the country this month. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself.

What is the flu?

The flu is a respiratory infection caused by influenza A or B viruses. Symptoms usually come on quickly and include headache, chills, cough, fever and muscle pain. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur, especially in children.

How long does the flu last?

While most people will recover from the flu within a week to 10 days, some – including those 65 years of age and older and adults and children with chronic conditions – are at risk of more severe complications, such as pneumonia.

How can you prevent getting the flu?

Here are seven simple steps you can take to help avoid it:

  1. Get a flu shot. It’s not too late! While flu season typically peaks in January or February, it can last until spring. But the sooner you get immunized the better, as it takes about two weeks after vaccination for protective antibodies to develop in your body. (Clinical studies have demonstrated flu vaccine effectiveness. However, how well a specific vaccine will work at preventing infection will vary depending upon your immune system and the match between the vaccine and the circulating strains of virus).

  2. Wash your hands every two to three hours, using hot water and lots of soap, and be sure to rub vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds.

  3. If you work in an office, clean your work station – including the desk, keyboard, telephone and anything else you frequently touch – regularly with disinfecting wipes.

  4. Avoid touching commonly shared surfaces such as washroom doorknobs, kitchen counters, or stair railings as much as possible.

  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible.

  6. Take care of yourself by getting lots of rest, staying hydrated, exercising regularly and making an effort to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. All of these activities boost your immune system and allow your body to better fight the germs that cause illness.

  7. Limit your exposure to sick people by avoiding crowds. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and try to avoid shaking hands.

If you do feel flu symptoms coming on, stay at home and avoid contact with other people. A pharmacist can recommend over-the-counter drugs to help reduce your symptoms. And if you are in a high-risk group or become very ill, contact your health care provider for advice. A doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs that can help lessen the symptoms or duration of the flu.

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