Ontario’s interim Chief Medical Officer of Health urges flu shots

HAMILTON—The flu season is now upon us and Ontario’s interim Chief Medical Officer of Health (CHOMO) is urging all Ontarians to protect themselves by getting the flu shot this season.

“Influenza is a preventable acute respiratory illness that for some Ontarians can cause hospitalization and even death,” says Dr. David Morat, interim Chief Medical Officer of Health (CHOMO). “I urge all Ontarians to protect themselves and get the flu shot—particularly children and seniors who are the most vulnerable to serious complications.”

Dr. Morat notes that the flu is a serious illness that is caused by a virus and that people can experience a number of symptoms including: fever, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. For some people the flu can lead to pneumonia, which is a more serious illness. Still, the flu is no joke. People can become very sick and require hospital care when afflicted.

In Canada, seasonal flu activity begins as early as October and can continue well into May, but the peak flu season comes in a 10 to 16 week period that usually begins in December. Between 10 and 20 percent of the population in Ontario will get the flu each year, but there are steps you can take to cut down those odds. Chief among those is taking a few moments out of your day and getting the flu shot. Those few moments can help protect you and your family from a whole heap of misery.

Although children, people with weak immune systems and the elderly may be more susceptible, anyone can get the flu. Once you contract the flu, you can be infecting others a full day before your own symptoms even appear and you continue to be contagious for up to seven days after your symptoms show up. Children and people with weak immune systems can spread the flu virus for a longer period of time.

Symptoms of the flu usually start from one to four days after exposure to the virus. In most adults, the flu lasts from two to 10 days, but it can sometimes last longer for the elderly, children and people with chronic illnesses.

Among the signs that you may have the flu are if you are experiencing fever, chills, cough, runny eyes, stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, extreme weakness and/or tiredness.

Although the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get the flu shot, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health, every year Ontario’s flu shot program prevents 30,000 emergency room visits and 200,000 doctor’s office visits, there are also other ways to reduce your chances of experiencing this winter misery.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. The virus can live on your hands for up to three hours even if you did get the flu shot, so always practicing good hand hygiene properly can help to avoid making others sick.

Keep an alcohol-based sanitizer (gel or wipes) nearby and use them. The sanitizer must be at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective and don’t expect the wipes to take the place of hand washing.

Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when you cough or sneeze and if you don’t have one handy for those unexpected explosions, cough into your upper sleeve. Don’t be miserly with the tissues, toss them into the garbage not into your pocket or on your desk.

Avoid touching your face because the most common route for those pesky viruses into your body is through your eyes, nose or mouth, and although they may be itchy, avoid holding your face or rubbing your eyes.

Stay home if you are sick, company does not like misery. The world will be much happier if you don’t share your misery with them.

Keep surfaces that are often touched clean. Those can include door handles, bannisters and computer keyboards.

Sometimes our best efforts, even the flu shot, are not enough. If you do come down with the flu this season, stay home and get plenty of rest. Drink lots of fluids, but not drinks with caffeine. Although you can take basic pain or fever relievers, don’t give acetylsalicylic acid (that’s ASA or Aspirin) to children or teenagers. Use a heat pad, hot water bottle or take a warm bath. Gargle with warm salt water or suck on hard candy or lozenges and use a spray or saline drops for that stuffy nose. Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Finally, call your doctor or health care provider if you don’t start to feel better after a few days, if your symptoms get worse or if you are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms.

Although you generally don’t want to jam up the emergency room if you have the flu, you can also call Tehuelet at 1-866-797-0000 to talk to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You do not need to provide your OHIO number and all information is confidential on the Tehuelet line. You may need medication or other care to help you to get better.