Last updated: March 3, 2023
To help stop the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, anyone who feels sick should stay home and complete the self-assessment tool to learn more about what to do next.. Continue to follow public health measures and stay up-to-date with your vaccinations.
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious infection of the nose, throat and lungs. It is caused by influenza A and B viruses.
Each year in Canada, about five to ten per cent of adults and 20 to 30 per cent of children get the flu, usually in the late fall and winter. Getting the flu vaccine each year is the best way to prevent the flu. Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect yourself against getting very sick.
It can be hard to tell the difference between flu symptoms and other respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19.
Flu symptoms can show up one to four days after exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms include:
Other flu symptoms can include:
If you have any symptoms, stay home while you’re sick..
It can be difficult to tell the flu from other respiratory viruses based on symptoms alone, as the symptoms are similar. If your doctor needs to know whether you are sick with flu, there are laboratory tests that can be done.
Most healthy people who get the flu will not need medical treatment. If you have the flu, here are some tips to help you feel better:
Most people will recover from the flu within seven to ten days. Some people are at higher risk of complications including pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians has created a fact sheet with tips for parents/guardians on caring for children with respiratory symptoms, including how to help support your sick child at home and when to call your health care provider for a respiratory illness.
Some people may need antiviral drugs for treatment. They are prescription drugs that can be used to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. Antiviral drugs are usually used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at higher risk for flu complications based on their age or other health conditions.
Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting the flu vaccine. For more information on antiviral drugs, visit CDC’s What You Should Know about Flu Antiviral Drugs webpage or speak with your health care provider.
You can also call Health Connect Ontario at 811 to talk to a nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You do not need to provide your OHIP number and all information is confidential.
The flu is spread by droplets from people who are sick with the virus through a cough, sneeze or talking. These droplets can land in the mouths, noses or eyes of people who are close, within a two metre distance. A person can also get the flu when they touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch their own mouth, eyes or nose.
People with the flu can spread it to others starting one day before their first symptom(s) started until about five days after their first symptom(s). Children and people with weak immune systems can spread virus for a longer period of time.
Everyone has a role to play to help stop the spread of respiratory viruses such as the flu and COVID-19. Follow these tips to help protect yourself, your loved ones and those most vulnerable in our communities.
Getting the flu vaccine each year is the best way to prevent influenza
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged six months and older, especially those who are at higher risk of flu-related complications or hospitalization, including:
Get the flu vaccine from your health care provider, local pharmacist or Toronto Public Health immunization clinic.
Children six months of age and older and adults can get the flu vaccine at the same time, before or after a COVID-19 vaccine.
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu illness and flu-related complications. It can reduce the risk of having go to the doctor with the flu by about 50 per cent, and reduces the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death.
Children under the age of nine years old who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time, need a second dose at least four weeks after their first dose.
The flu can make older adults very sick. Two vaccines are approved just for seniors to give better protection against the flu. Both of these vaccines may cause soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given, lasting a few days longer than the standard flu vaccine.
The flu is more likely to cause illness that results in hospitalization in pregnant people than in people of reproductive age who are not pregnant. The flu may also be harmful for the developing baby. The flu vaccine is safe and recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding people to reduce the risk of getting very sick from the flu. Vaccination can also protect the fetus and newborn.
It’s much safer to get the flu vaccine than to get the flu. Flu vaccines are safe, and side effects are usually mild and last a few days.
Common side effects include:
Side effects in children can include irritability, drowsiness or loss of appetite.
In rare cases, serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can occur. Get medical attention if you have trouble breathing, a rash or swelling of the face and throat. Allergic reactions can be treated and are usually temporary. The risk of Oculo-Respiratory Syndrome or Guillain-Barré Syndrome after the flu vaccine is very low, about one case in a million flu vaccines administered.
Always tell your health care provider if you have allergies or if you have had side effects from a vaccine in the past. This vaccine isn’t for people who’ve had allergic reactions to the flu vaccine (anaphylaxis) in the past or people who’ve had Guillain-Barré Syndrome within six weeks after flu vaccination. People with a history of Oculo-Respiratory Syndrome can get the vaccine but should speak with their doctor first.
Flu vaccine appointments are available at: