About Influenza

Although it may appear to be “just a cold,” influenza (“the flu”) is a serious respiratory illness. Read on to learn about its symptoms, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

What is influenza (“the flu”)?

The flu is a commonly transmitted infection caused by the influenza virus. The virus infects the nose, throat and lungs of a person and can also cause complications in other areas of the body. The flu is highly contagious and can cause serious illness in the infected person.
There is common confusion about the cold and flu. Both conditions can cause similar symptoms. The difference is the flu tends to be more severe and puts a person at higher risk of complications possibly causing hospitalization or even death.

Flu symptoms

  • Fever
    • Usually a high fever (39°C/102°F to 40°C/104°F)
    • Starts very suddenly
    • Lasts for 3-4 days
  • Headache
    • Very common and can be severe
  • General aches and pains
    • Very common and often severe
    • Muscles ache and the person complains of being very sore
  • Fatigue and weakness
    • Very common and may be severe
    • Can last 2-3 weeks or more
  • Runny, stuffy nose
    • Common
  • Sneezing
    • Sometimes
  • Sore Throat
    • Common
  • Coughing
    • Very common and is often severe
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may happen with the flu but usually in children. Many elderly people with the flu don’t have any fever at all.

Cold symptoms

  • Fever
    • Rare with a common cold
  • Headache
    • Rare with a common cold
  • General aches and pains
    • Sometimes but usually mild
  • Fatigue and weakness
    • Mild if it does happen
  • Runny, stuffy nose
    • Common
  • Sneezing
    • Common
  • Sore throat
    • Common
  • Coughing
    • Common but usually mild to moderate
Cold and flu symptoms adapted from The Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion

How contagious is the flu and how do I catch it?

The flu is highly contagious and has been known to cause epidemics and pandemics because it is easily transmitted through the air.
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.


How can I lower my risk of getting the flu?

The flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Other ways to avoid the flu are the same as what your mother may have reminded you to do when you were a child.  These include:
  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  Remember, the flu is spread when your hands touch a contaminated surface and then your face. Washing your hands helps to wash away the virus.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  3. Avoid people who are sick.  Just being close to someone who is coughing can increase your chance of getting the flu.

What should I do if I get sick with the flu?

If you have flu-like symptoms, the best thing you can do is to stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. Most people with the flu have a mild illness that will go away on its own and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.
Some people are at higher risk of complications from the flu and should talk to their doctor. These include:
  • People with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma or breathing disorders, renal disease, anemia
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • People who are 65 years of age or older


When should I go to the doctor for treatment?

There are some warning symptoms and you should see your doctor if you get any of them.  These are:
  • Shortness of breath, rapid or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish or grey skin color
  • Bloody or coloured mucus/spit
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • High fever lasting more than three days
  • Low blood pressure


When should my child see the doctor for treatment?

If your child has any of the warning signs listed above, you should take him/her to see the doctor right away.
Some other warning symptoms of flu that happen in children are:
  • Not drinking enough fluids or eating
  • Not waking up or interacting
  • Irritability; not wanting to play or be held


Important information

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This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.
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