The most effective way to decrease complications and reduce the impact of the flu is to get a preventative vaccine shot. The North American vaccine is developed each year to work against different strains of influenza virus, based on trends seen in the Southern Hemisphere. The best time for vaccination is early October to mid-November.
Certain people are at an increased risk of complications from the flu and should receive the vaccine. You are at high risk and should be vaccinated if you:
- are aged 65 years or older
- live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- have a lung disease (e.g., asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD))
- have a heart condition (e.g., angina, congestive heart failure)
- have diabetes or another metabolic disease
- have a kidney problem
- have a blood disorder (e.g., anemia)
- have a neurologic or neurodevelopment condition
- have cancer or a weakened immune system (e.g., are taking steroid medications, or have HIV)
- are aged 6 months to 59 months
- are aged 6 months to 18 years and are taking long-term ASA therapy
- have been diagnosed as suffering from morbid obesity (BMI of 40 or higher)
- are of Indigenous descent
- are pregnant
Anyone who can infect those at high risk (including health care workers) should also receive the vaccine. Since infants less than 6 months cannot get the flu shot but are at high risk of complications, household contacts of these infants should get the flu vaccine, as should households who are expecting a newborn during the influenza season. People who provide essential community services, such as first responders and people directly involved in culling operations with avian influenza-infected poultry, should receive the vaccine as well.
If you are not part of a high-risk group but just want to avoid the flu, you can also get vaccinated.
If you're a senior (65 years of age and older), there are two different flu shots available: a standard-dose and a high-dose vaccine. Both shots are effective in protecting you against the flu. The high-dose vaccine contains one less influenza B strain since influenza B occurs less frequently in seniors, but provides better protection against influenza A.
While there are different flu vaccines available, depending on your specific circumstance (i.e. age, pregnancy, allergies), some may not be recommended for you. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for more details.
Besides getting a flu vaccine, simple frequent handwashing is also very effective at preventing both flus and colds. As well, teach your family to cough or sneeze into their sleeves, and lead by example!
Certain medications (e.g., zanamivir, oseltamivir) are also used in some cases to prevent the flu. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether you need a preventative medication, and which one is the right one for you.
There are many myths about what predisposes a person to catch a cold and what makes one person catch more colds than another. Factors that may increase the risk of catching a cold include fatigue, emotional stress, and smoking.
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