In spite of the frigid temperatures and lots of snow, winter in Canada is a beautiful season. The problem is, it also means that the dreaded flu season is upon us.

But there are many ways Canadians can protect themselves from getting sick and remain active during the colder months.

This is especially important for adults 65 and over. In 2016, older adults accounted for 67 percent of flu-related hospitalizations and 88 percent of flu-related deaths.

“It was a real wake-up call for me,” said Sharon, a retired teacher who was hospitalized last year with influenza complications. After two weeks of intense flu symptoms, she developed pneumonia. A three-night stay in the hospital during the holiday season was a scare both for her and for her partner.

Even if you’re healthy, fit, and living life to its fullest, influenza can pose many harmful risks. Three quarters of people in this age group have at least one chronic health condition such as cardiac issues, pulmonary disorders, diabetes or cancer, putting them at a far greater risk of complications from influenza. Complications, such as pneumonia, can require hospitalization.

While the health complications associated with getting the flu are much higher for adults in their mid-sixties or older, there are precautions you can take to significantly reduce your chance of catching and spreading the flu.

Follow our tips below so that you can spend the winter season enjoying life — whether that puts you on the ski slopes, walking a trail, escaping the cold on a tropical vacation, or relaxing by the fire with your loved ones.

1. Get your flu shot – it’s not too late!
Getting the flu shot has been shown to be the most effective way to avoid influenza. Though many people get the vaccine in the fall, when it first becomes available, flu season in Canada lasts until at least April. So, it’s not too late to take this important step towards staying healthy (even in January and February!). In particular, those with a vulnerable immune system, such as older relatives, pregnant women, young children, and people with pre-existing medical conditions, cannot risk catching the flu. Protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your community by getting the flu vaccine.

“I’m a fit and active racquetball player,” said Hugh, a 65-year-old retired salesman who hadn’t received a flu shot since his kids were little. Since retiring, he’s been volunteering at the Canadian Cancer Society, working with patients who are unable to risk contracting the flu. He now gets the flu shot every season to keep the people he works with safe. “It hadn’t occurred to me that by getting vaccinated, I was also helping to protect other people my age who are at an even greater risk of complications.”

Even if you got the flu shot last winter, it’s important to do so again this year. The virus strains can change from year to year and the effectiveness of the vaccine can wear off. This is why getting the flu shot should be an annual routine. It’s a simple action that can save lives.

Want to know where you can get your flu shot? Talk to your healthcare provider or use the online locator to find the clinic nearest to you.

2. Wash your hands often
Washing your hands regularly is the easiest way to stop the spread of the flu. Healthcare professionals recommend that you use liquid hand soap and scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. However, if soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Applying moisturizer to your hands daily will help prevent chapping and keep them healthy!

3. Keep common surfaces clean
Even if you’re on top of your hand hygiene, household surfaces that people commonly touch can still become germ-ridden. Shared areas and objects such as doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and kitchen countertops are frequently touched and can easily become a way to spread infections. Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly to keep germs at bay.

4. Stay active
The good news is if you’re already dedicated to keeping a healthy and active lifestyle, you’re less likely to get sick. There are many ways to stay fit this season, including classic cold-weather activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and walks along wintery trails. Eating healthy foods, being physically active, and getting a good night’s sleep helps keep your immune system strong. And this will help your body fight off infections.

5. Know the symptoms
Not sure if you have the flu or if it’s simply a common cold? Know what symptoms to look for. A cold can cause a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing, and sometimes mild aches or tiredness. The flu can cause all of the above, plus a dry, persistent cough, extreme fatigue, severe muscle aches, chills, and a sudden high fever of 39°C/102°F or over. Everyone experiences symptoms slightly differently, and many cold and flu symptoms can overlap, so if you’re unsure, check this handy cold vs. flu list.

6. If you’re sick, stay home!
Whether you’re expected at work, a friendly gathering, or just need to pop out to run a few errands, it’s best to stay home if you think you have the flu. The flu is very contagious and spreads quickly and easily, so avoid putting others at risk. Before you even know you are sick, and for up to about seven days after symptoms show, you can pass the flu on to others. Children are usually contagious for even longer. Try your best to protect those around you so that they can start the New Year healthy and influenza-free.

7. Cough and sneeze into your arm
Reduce the chances of passing on germs by coughing and sneezing into the bend of your arm. While covering your mouth will help prevent airborne germs, using a part of the body that you don’t use to touch common areas is a great way to stop the spread of the flu.

It’s not “just the flu”

Stop telling yourself that it’s “just the flu”. Getting the flu not only prevents you from fully enjoying the winter season; it can cause serious health problems that put you or your loved ones at risk. The best way to protect yourself, your family and other people at risk of influenza-related complications is to get vaccinated. Don’t let the flu prevent you from hitting the trails, taking that much-needed vacation, or spending time with your loved ones — get your flu shot.

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