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FAQs - Influenza Illness

What is influenza?

Seasonal influenza (commonly known as the “flu”) is a serious infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs) caused by a virus that:

  • Spreads easily from person to person by respiratory droplets through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.  It is also spread through direct contact with surfaces contaminated by the influenza virus (toys, eating utensils and unwashed hands).
  • Affects people across the world.
  • Can affect anybody in any age group.
  • Occurs in Canada anytime during the late fall / winter months (November to April). 
  • Is a serious public health problem that causes severe illness and death for higher risk populations.

What is the difference between a cold, influenza and stomach flu?

Refer to the following webpage for a detailed description of the differences between a cold, seasonal influenza, and the stomach flu:
www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/influenza-compare-symptoms.html

What groups are at highest risk for severe illness and complications related to influenza?

Young children six to 23 months old, seniors 65 years and older, long-term care residents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and anyone who suffers from a chronic condition are at highest risk for severe illness. Individuals in these groups should make a priority of getting the vaccine early in the influenza season.

What can I do to prevent Influenza illness?

Get your influenza vaccine every year: immunization is the single most effective means of preventing influenza infection and illness.
Practice good hand hygiene: wash hands frequently with warm soap and water.

Cover your cough : cough or sneeze into your arm or into a tissue – not into your hands. Throw used tissue into garbage, and wash hands with warm soap and water immediately.

Stay home when you are sick!

How is seasonal influenza spread?

Seasonal influenza spreads rapidly and easily from person to person by respiratory droplets through the air. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the influenza virus get into the air. Another person can breathe them in and become sick. 

The seasonal influenza virus can also live on hands or other surfaces and be passed through touching. The virus can live on hard surfaces such as toys, eating utensils, door handles and telephones for up to 48 hours and soft surfaces such as cloths for eight to ten hours. It is then spread when a person touches these contaminated surfaces and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

How long does it take to develop symptoms of influenza illness after being exposed?

The time from when a person is infected with the influenza virus to when they become ill, known as the incubation period, is most commonly two days, however it can be anywhere between one to four days following infection with the virus.

When is a person with seasonal influenza contagious?

A person can pass the virus to others beginning one to two days before to 5 to 7 days after becoming ill.

What are the symptoms of influenza?

Seasonal influenza infection most commonly causes a sudden onset of high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint aches and pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat, and runny nose. Other symptoms may include fatigue (severe tiredness), and decreased appetite. Uncommon symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  

Most people will get better within one week. However, some people can develop severe complications such as pneumonia from influenza illness. People who develop severe complications may require hospitalization and in some cases these complications may lead to death.

How serious is influenza?

People of any age can get influenza. Most people who get influenza recover within a week without requiring medical attention. Cough and fatigue (severe tiredness) can persist for several weeks, making it difficult to return to full activities. 

Persons at higher risk of complications related to influenza are sometimes ill for a longer period of time, possibly developing complications and requiring hospitalization. Approximately 2,000 to 8,000 Canadians can die from seasonal influenza and its complications each year, depending on the severity of the season.

What are the possible complications from influenza?

The most common complication from seasonal influenza illness is bacterial pneumonia. Other complications may include worsening of existing health conditions such as heart, lung and kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.

Can I get influenza more than once?

Yes you can get seasonal influenza more than once. The circulating influenza viruses change frequently. Being infected with one strain does not give you protection against all strains. It is important to be immunized against influenza every year, to protect yourself from viruses circulating each influenza season.

What should I do if I get influenza?

Refer to the following webpage for more information regarding influenza self-care:
www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/influenza-self-care.html

More Information

Information for the public
Information for health professionals


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