Anyone can catch the flu. Protect yourself – and others – by learning about the virus and recognizing the symptoms.
Free flu shots are available to all Ontarians six months of age and older.
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The flu (influenza) is a contagious virus that anyone can get. But there are several things you can do to avoid catching it, or spreading it to others.
If you think that you might have the flu you should stay home and self-isolate.
You can visit Health811 online or call 811 to talk to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You do not need to provide your OHIP number and all information is confidential.
Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu, and it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
If you think you have COVID-19, you may be eligible for a clinical assessment or testing. If you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone that does, please follow the current guidelines on self-isolating.
When to get the flu shot
Flu season typically runs from late fall to early spring.
Flu shots are now available to all Ontarians six months of age and older. You should get a flu shot as soon as possible as it takes two weeks to take effect.
Individuals aged six months and over may receive a flu shot at the same time as, or at any time before or after a COVID-19 vaccine.
Talk to your health care provider or pharmacy to learn more.
The flu shot is your best defence
This year’s flu season is taking place at the same time as COVID-19. Don’t take any unnecessary risks with your health. Get the flu shot as early in the season as possible, as soon as it becomes available to you.
The flu shot is recommended for everyone six months of age and older. It is:
- safe (including for kids and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)
- available from your doctor or nurse practitioner, and at participating pharmacies and local public health units across the province
- proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu
- different each year because the virus changes frequently – so you need to get it every fall
Where to get the flu vaccine
6 months up to 2 years old
- doctor or nurse practitioner
- some local public health units
Children six months to two years old can get their flu shot from a doctor, nurse practitioner or local public health unit. Children under two years old cannot get a flu shot at a pharmacy.
2 to 64 years old
- doctor or nurse practitioner
- some local public health units
- participating pharmacies
Children as young as two years of age can now get their flu shot at a participating pharmacy.
65 and older
For the 2022/2023 season, if you're 65 and older, there are three different flu shots available:
- The standard-dose vaccine that protects against four strains of flu virus.
- The adjuvanted vaccine that protects against three strains of flu virus and contains an adjuvant (a substance added to a vaccine that helps the recipient develop an improved immune response).
- The high-dose vaccine, that protects against four strains of flu virus, but in higher doses.
All three flu vaccine types are safe, effective and offer strong protection to seniors. Talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or public health unit about which option is best for you. To get any of the standard dose, the adjuvanted or the high dose:
- visit a doctor or nurse practitioner
- contact your local public health unit
- visit a participating pharmacy
Other tips to avoid getting – and spreading – the flu
Wash your hands often
- even after getting the flu shot, washing with soap and water for at least 15 seconds helps keep the virus from spreading
- if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer (gel or wipes) with at least 70% alcohol
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- use a tissue and throw it out rather than putting it in your pocket, on a desk or table
- if you don't have a tissue, cough into your upper sleeve
Don't touch your face
- the flu virus spreads when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk and droplets enter your body through your eyes, nose or mouth
Stay at home when you're sick
- viruses spread more easily in group settings, such as businesses, schools and long-term care homes
Clean (and disinfect) surfaces and shared items
- viruses can live for 24 to 48 hours on hard surfaces such as countertops, door handles, computer keyboards and phones
Who is most at risk
Complications from the flu can include serious conditions, like pneumonia or heart attacks and, in some cases, death. Although the burden of influenza can vary from year to year, flu is estimated to cause about 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year.
Some people are more vulnerable to complications and hospitalization from the flu:
- babies under six months old are too young to get the flu shot, but they'll get some protection if their parent got the flu shot while they were pregnant
- children under five years of age, because their immune systems are developing, and their airways are small and more easily blocked
- people 65 years old and older, because their immune systems are weaker and they are more likely to have an underlying condition that increases their risk
- pregnant people, because their immune system, heart and lungs change – especially later in pregnancy – making them more likely to get seriously ill from the flu
- people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes
Symptoms typically appear one to four days after you've been exposed to the virus, but you're still contagious even if you don't show symptoms yet.
It is easy to mistake influenza for another respiratory illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or COVID-19. You may have caught the flu if you have:
- runny eyes
- stuffy nose
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- extreme weakness and tiredness
- loss of appetite
Some people may have diarrhea or vomiting, though this is more common in children than adults. Most people who get the flu will recover within seven to 10 days.
Flu vs. common cold
The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar but, unlike a case of the common cold, the flu can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia.
Use this chart to help determine if you have a cold or the flu.
|Fever||Rare||Common, high (102°F - 104°F or 39°C - 40°C)|
Starts suddenly, lasts three to four days
Not everyone with the flu gets 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 two to three weeks or more|
|Fatigue (extreme tiredness)||Unusual||Common, starts early|
|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|
If you get the flu
Be sure to:
- stay home and get plenty of rest
- drink lots of fluids
- speak to your doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that can help you feel better (such as basic pain or fever relievers), but do not give acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin®) to anyone under 18 years old
- treat muscle pain using a hot water bottle or heating pad – apply heat for short periods of time
- take a warm bath
- gargle with a glass of warm salt water or suck on hard candy or lozenges
- use spray or saline drops for a stuffy nose
- avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco
Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if:
- you don't start to feel better after a few days
- your symptoms get worse
- you are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms