Getting serious about seasonal flu

Despite its seriousness, a large proportion of Canadians do not consider influenza a potentially life-threatening disease. However, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 4,000 – 8,000 Canadians die every year due to influenza-related complications.

In recent Ipsos Reid surveys of more than 1,200 Canadians, only seven per cent of parents said the first thing they would do at the onset of flu symptoms is make a doctor’s appointment. A significant number said their first response to treating influenza is bed rest (35 per cent) and/or over-the-counter medication (33 per cent).

Many Canadians believe that once they are sick with the flu, there is little they can do other than ease the symptoms. Fewer than 20 per cent of people were aware that antiviral medications exist as a treatment option to make them feel better faster and prevent serious secondary complications.

Interestingly, 76 per cent of parents stated that if they knew a prescription medication was available that would speed up their recovery and help protect their family from the flu they would ask their doctor for it.

"Getting vaccinated and washing yourhands regularly are the best means to prevent influenza. However, influenza still causes thousands of infections in Canada every year," says Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital. "Bed rest, fluids and over-the-counter medications can help soothe flu symptoms; however antiviral medications can prevent complications, and make people feel better faster."

Be Prepared
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization encourages all Canadians to prepare for the flu season by getting their annual vaccine shot, yet only 38 per cent of adults and 34 per cent of children get vaccinated against seasonal flu, according to the survey. Ask your doctor about the flu vaccine and the important role that hand hygiene and antivirals can play in protecting you from influenza.

Think about Prevention
Although the flu is a highly contagious virus, avoiding the spread of the flu is not top of mind with Canadians. For most, feeling better is the number one priority. In addition to annual vaccination, antiviral medications attack the influenza virus, and thus prevent the infection from getting worse and help to prevent it from spreading to other people.

Know the Treatment
Antiviral medications are the only prescription medicines available to treat the flu. Antibiotics are not effective against the influenza virus.

If you come down with the flu, it is important to see your doctor within 24-48 hours of symptom onset for a diagnosis so they can prescribe an antiviral treatment, which are the only medicines available to attack the virus and prevent its spread.

Cold vs. Flu
Here is an easy reference chart showing the difference between cold and flu.

chart of symptons

(Source: Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness & Promotion,