The flu, also known as 'influenza', is an infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs) caused by several types of virus. Often mistaken for the common cold, it differs in terms of both its origin and its symptoms. The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu vaccination every year.
Differences between the cold and the flu
Many of us have trouble differentiating the flu from the common cold. This is understandable since both infections affect the upper respiratory tract in similar ways. Yet, they’re very different.
To figure out if you have the flu or a cold, you need to pay close attention to your symptoms:
|Fever||Usually. Between 38 ºC and 40 ºC. May last 2 to 5 days.||Rarely|
|Cough||Usually. May last 2 weeks.||Usually. Mild to moderate|
|Body aches and pain||Usually. May be severe.||Rarely|
|Nasal congestion and runny nose||Rarely||Usually|
|Chest pains||May be severe.||Mild to moderate|
|Headaches||Usually. May be severe.||Rarely|
|Nausea and vomiting||Especially children. Can be accompanied by diarrhea.||May occur. Mild|
|Tiredness and weakness||Usually. May last 2 to 3 weeks.||Mild|
There are three main types of flu virus.
This virus is the most common strain of the flu. It causes the worse influenza epidemics. It generally strikes every three years. The H1N1 influenza A subtype is the one most of us have heard about.
This strain of the virus also causes epidemics, but every five years or so. However, the infection is usually benign.
Affecting animals in particular, this strain is always present. It causes a few small local and benign epidemics.
Regardless of the strain, the flu normally strikes from October to March. And, much like the common cold, influenza is also transmitted easily from one person to another through tiny airborne droplets. When a person infected with the flu coughs or sneezes, he or she projects into the air millions of virus-laden particles, ready to contaminate others.
Keep in mind that those infected are contagious before the onset of symptoms and remain so for approximately six days (ten in the case of children). What’s more, the incubation period for the virus ranges from one to four days.
Every year, 300 Quebecers die from flu complications. Did you know?
There is one sure-fire way to protect yourself from the flu: get vaccinated. The content of the flu vaccine is modified every year to ensure it contains the antigens that will fight the virus strains most likely to be present that year. For example, the vaccine used in fall 2013 and winter 2014 contains strains A (H1N1 and H3N2) and B.
In healthy adults, the flu shot is effective in 70 to 90 percent of cases. Yearly vaccination is recommended. The Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) offers free flu shots to people, like seniors, who present a higher risk of developing flu-related complications.
Vaccines are safe and do not contain any virus that could cause health problems in patients. Complications associated with diseases that vaccines are designed to prevent are far more dangerous for human health than the vaccine itself.
Good to Know!
Since fall 2012, the Quebec MSSS has made available the nasal spray vaccine for children ages 2 to 17 at higher risk of complications from the flu. This vaccine is more effective in young people than the injection and is better accepted since it does not require the use of needles.
Here are a few tips on how to alleviate flu symptoms:
- Stay home and rest
- Drink plenty of water
- To reduce your fever, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Antibiotics are ineffective against the flu. They may, however, be prescribed for secondary bacterial infections, such as ear or sinus infections.