The truth about the flu

Oct. 25, 2019 – Every year, you hear the same advice: get your flu shot. And this year is no exception – you’re going to hear it again because it’s the single best way you can protect yourself and the people you care about during flu season. But instead of just telling you to get vaccinated, we wanted you to hear directly from our experts – physicians, infectious disease experts, medical directors and nurse practitioners – about why getting the shot is important. This is the truth about the flu.

You don’t have to be near someone who’s sick to get the flu.

The flu virus can stay contagious on a surface for hours after someone has sneezed or coughed on it. That means that doorknobs, magazines in the dentist’s office and even your work lunchroom counter can harbour the virus, even if no one else is around.

You can spread the flu before you know you’re sick.

Adults can spread influenza before symptoms start and for almost a week after, meaning that anyone you come into contact with during that time is at risk of getting the flu – from you.

Pretty healthy? You’re still at risk for getting the flu.

The flu can impact people in different ways. If you’re relatively healthy, you might recover quickly – but you might also have a fever, fatigue for a month and a cough for even longer. But part of the importance of getting the flu shot is that it helps prevent other people from getting the flu, including those who might be more at risk including babies, the elderly, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, those with cardiac, respiratory or neurologic conditions, Indigenous individuals and people who are overweight. For high risk groups, the flu can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure and other serious illnesses. It can even be fatal. If someone has underlying heart disease, it can trigger a heart attack, and if they have lung disease, it can exacerbate asthma or COPD.

The flu shot can’t give you the flu.

The flu shot contains an inactivated virus so it is impossible for it to give you the flu. Even after you get your flu shot, you might still get sick – because there’s more than one virus circulating in the winter. So it could be that the vaccine protected you from flu, often the more serious infection, but you ended up getting rhinovirus or something else. Also, most people get vaccinated when they hear that flu season has arrived or start seeing people around them getting sick. The problem is that it takes two weeks for the flu shot to be effective, and you might have already been exposed. One of the strongest arguments for getting the flu shot is that it also impacts the severity of the illness. So even if you do get influenza, there’s good evidence that you don’t get as sick if you’ve had the flu shot, and fewer patients end up in the Intensive Care Unit. Also, you may not transmit it as easily, so you could be protecting your colleagues and your family.

 The flu doesn’t just keep you in bed – it also kills.

Every year, 3,500 Canadians die from the flu. This is in addition to more than 12,000 who are hospitalized. Even in less serious cases, the flu can make you fatigued for more than a month, draining your energy and keeping you coughing for weeks on end.

Ready to get your shot? Check in with your family doctor or local pharmacy. Need some more information first? Check here for more facts from the Ontario government.

  • Natalee Elvie-Morgan, nurse practitioner
  • Akshaan Kaul, family medicine physician
  • Roohi Qureshi, occupational medicine physician
  • Kevin Schwartz, infectious diseases physician
  • Ashley Verduyn, chief and director, medical affairs
  • Aurora Wilson, infection prevention and control manager