What Is the Flu?
The flu, or seasonal influenza, is a highly contagious group of illnesses that circulates year-round. Activity tends to peak every winter, usually between October and May. The length of the flu varies, but it can result in:
- fever and chills
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- fatigue or weakness
- runny or stuffy nose
- vomiting and diarrhea (less common)
Anyone can get the flu, but it is more dangerous for infants, children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions or a weakened immune system.
How Do People Catch the Flu?
The flu virus mainly spreads by droplets made when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets circulate in the atmosphere for other people to breathe in. The flu can also be transmitted through skin contact or contact with affected surfaces. Along with getting the flu vaccine, it is important to practice good hygiene to prevent catching the flu. Here are some tips:
- avoid close contact with sick people and encourage them to stay home from work
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- cover your coughs and sneezes
- wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available
- practise good health habits: get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, eat nutritious foods and manage your stress.
Is it the Flu, a Cold, or COVID-19?
Differentiating between illness symptoms is hard, but generally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is caused by influenza viruses only, and a cold may be triggered by several different viruses. Cold symptoms tend to be overall milder and resolve themselves without complications whereas the flu can result in health problems if left untreated. Use this helpful chart to better understand cold and flu differences: cold or flu?
COVID-19 may present some similar symptoms to the flu. We recommend contacting a care provider for a more nuanced overview if you suspect you may have COVID-19.
In general, seek emergency care when your illness symptoms go beyond the above chart to include the following: trouble breathing, persistent pressure (or pain) in the chest, confusion, inability to stay awake or wake up, skin discolouration that looks blue or pale in the lips or nail beds.
Why Should I Get the Flu Shot?
The Ministry of Health recommends that everyone over the age of six months be vaccinated annually against the flu. There are many benefits of having the flu vaccine. Here are some:
- Preventing the spread of the flu in your workplace
- As a preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) and women who are pregnant
- Protecting those around you, especially children, older adults and people with certain chronic health conditions.
How Much Will a Flu Shot cost?
Flu shots may be available at your primary care doctor’s office for a fee. Argus Members insured with Preventive and Diagnostic (PD) benefits will be reimbursed up to $30.
Flu shots are also available via The Department of Health at a cost of $15.00 for adults and children while seniors are free of charge. This fee will be reimbursed by Argus on your submission of a health claim along with your receipt. This can be completed online through your Argus Vantage account and reimbursement will be delivered via direct deposit (providing you are registered for our Electronic Funds Transfer service).
How Does the Flu Shot Work?
There are many flu viruses, and they are constantly changing. Each year, a new flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four viruses that are predicted to cause illness in the upcoming flu season. Even when the vaccine does not exactly match all viruses, it may still provide some protection. It generally takes two weeks for protection to develop after the shot. There is always some risk of catching the flu, but a vaccine can significantly reduce these chances and result in weaker symptoms if you do become sick.
Can the Flu Shot Cause the Flu?
No. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. The vaccine does not contain a live virus, so contracting the flu from the shot is impossible. However, you may experience soreness, redness and swelling at the site of the shot as the body’s immune system responds. A slight fever, mild headache and muscle aches can also occur after the flu vaccine. If you do experience any of these side effects, they should only last a few days. If these persist or if you develop a rash, you should contact your doctor.
When Should I Have My Flu Shot?
Make plans to get vaccinated early in the fall before flu season begins. This is not always possible due to factors in the vaccine procurement process that affect the timeliness and availability of the vaccine. However, getting the flu shot at any time can still be beneficial, so if you can only get it later, it is still recommended that you do so.
When Should a Person Not Have the Flu Shot?
In a few cases, such as for those with allergies, it may be safer to opt out of receiving a vaccine.
You should not get the flu shot if you:
- have a severe allergy to egg, egg products, or products that contain chicken
- had a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccination previously
- think you already have the flu
Talk to your doctor about other options available to you so that you can stay protected and safe.
How Can I Deal with Anxiety About Having Injections?
Some people have anxiety around having needle injections that may make them not want to get their flu shot. Studies suggest that on average, 16 percent of adult patients avoid flu vaccinations for fear of needles.
Here are a few helpful tips that can help you de-stress before your vaccination:
- Tell the nurse that you feel anxious. If they know how you are feeling, they can make the experience as easy for you as possible.
- Know that the discomfort is temporary, but there is a great benefit to you and those around you.
- Relaxing your arm muscles will make the injection less uncomfortable. Try a relaxation exercise: close your eyes and transport yourself to a place of calm and happiness, or inhale through your nose for four counts and exhale through your mouth for four counts. Find what works for you.
What If I Choose Not to Have the Flu Shot?
There is always a chance that you may get the flu. Getting a flu shot has been proven to significantly reduce that chance. If you choose to go unvaccinated, take measures to reduce your risk of illness. Practice good hygiene and keep your home stocked with basic over-the-counter medicines that can help ease your symptoms in the event you are too ill to go outside.
For more information about the flu shot, contact our Population Health Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER: the information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.