Influenza (flu)

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What is influenza (flu)?

Influenza (flu) is a common contagious respiratory illness that affects hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year. Influenza A and B viruses are the two main types that cause infection. The flu vaccine (flu shot) is the best way to protect against infection.

What is my risk?

  • Travellers are at risk in any country during the flu season.
  • The level of risk depends on the traveller’s general health, time of year, destination and duration of travel. Crowded conditions or attending events with large gatherings, travelling on cruise ships or joining large commercial tours, may increase your chance of getting the flu.
  • People over 65, young children (six months to five years), children and adults with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes and cancer, and pregnant women are more likely to become seriously ill.

How is it transmitted?   

  • The flu is spread through droplets in the air when someone who is already infected coughs or sneezes.
  • It can also be spread by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. 

What are the symptoms?            

  • They usually include cough and fever, and may also include headache, chills, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and sore throat. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur, especially in children.
  • In more severe cases, complications such as pneumonia may develop, especially for those at higher risk.
  • Most people recover from the flu within 7 to 10 days.

Can influenza (flu) be treated?  

  • The best way to treat the flu is to drink lots of fluids (water, juice and soup) and get plenty of rest. Aches and fever can be treated with acetaminophen. 
  • If taken shortly after getting sick (within 24-48 hours), antivirals may reduce the symptoms, shorten the length of illness and may prevent serious complications sometimes associated with flu.

Where is influenza (flu) a concern? 

The flu occurs worldwide.

  • In the northern hemisphere the flu season usually runs from November to April. There may still be occasional cases or outbreaks at any time of the year. 
  • In the southern hemisphere the flu season is between April and October. 
  • In tropical countries, the flu is a concern year round.


Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

1. Get vaccinated

This is the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu. The flu shot can prevent illness in about 70% to 90% of healthy people. Full protection from the flu takes about two weeks from the time you are vaccinated and lasts six months.

2. Protect yourself and others from the spread of germs

a) Wash your hands frequently:

    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands as germs can be spread this way. For example, if you touch a doorknob that has germs on it then touch your mouth, you can get sick.
    • Wash your hands with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds, as often as possible.
    • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. It’s a good idea to always keep some with you when you travel. 

b) Practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette:

    • Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.

c) Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick

d) Keep shared surfaces clean

    • Clean doorknobs, telephones and other surfaces that many people touch on a regular basis.
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