Guarding against the flu: what you need to know

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Winnipeg Health Region is once again reminding Winnipeggers that they can take action to guard against the flu this season amid reports of rising influenza activity throughout the city.

Health officials say that there have been a total of 208 lab confirmed cases of influenza A and four cases of influenza B reported as of Dec 27, 2014. It is important to note that the numbers identified by no means represent the magnitude of the disease in the community as not all who get ill seek medical attention and for those who seek medical attention not all get tested.

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye, Medical Officer of Health and Communicable Diseases Lead with the Region's Population and Public Health program, says those numbers are expected to rise as the flu season has its initial peak  in January.

Fortunately, there are things people can do to protect themselves from a bout of the flu.

"Wash your hands as many times as possible," says Fatoye.

The influenza virus is spread through tiny droplets in the air, usually when an infected person sneezes close to someone else. It can also spread when the droplets are transmitted from one person to another by physical contact - like shaking hands - or via a surface touched by the infected person, such as door handles and coffee pots.

"Once you touch a surface with the influenza virus, and then rub your eyes or touch your nose, the virus will transfer to you," Fatoye says.

If you are already ill, stay away from personal care homes or homes where elderly or those with immune compromised conditions reside and gatherings, and don't go to work or school, to avoid spreading the virus to others. This is important in the early stages of the illness as the period of communicability is three to five days for most and up to seven days in children

"Places like personal care homes will put up notices asking you to stay away if you have symptoms," says Fatoye.

To avoid spreading the flu virus, remember, to cover your cough by using a tissue, your sleeve or elbow. Avoid coughing into your hands.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, head and body aches, and runny nose. People at particular risk for flu and its complications are pregnant women, children under five years of age, those 65 and older and anyone with a chronic illness.

Fatoye says the best cure for the flu is to stay home and rest in bed. See "Shoot the flu" for more information on treating the symptoms of flu.

If you have more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, call your doctor or visit a walk-in clinic, ACCESS Centre, QuickCare clinic or local health clinic for assessment and treatment.

Fatoye says it is never too late to get vaccinated. Immunization remains the best protection for everyone six months of age and older with no contraindication to the vaccine. Even though the vaccine is not a perfect match to the strains in circulation, it still offers protection for the other strains like influenza b which we typically would start seeing in late February and early March. 

Influenza vaccine is available from primary health care providers, such as family doctors and nurse practitioners, QuickCare Clinics or through public health offices.

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledges that it provides health services in facilities located in Treaty One and Treaty Five territories, the homelands of the Métis Nation and the original lands of the Inuit people. The WRHA respects and acknowledges harms and mistakes, and we dedicate ourselves to collaborate in partnership with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people in the spirit of reconciliation.
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