Influenza (the Flu)

We’re so used to influenza that many people don’t take it seriously. And yet, in Canada, between 2,000 and 8,000 people die from it every year. Globally, deaths from influenza range between 250,000 and 500,000 people a year.

What is influenza?

Well, it’s not the common cold. It also doesn’t cause stomach pain, diarrhea or vomiting.* These may be signs of what is commonly called the “stomach flu” or a gastrointestinal infection.

Influenza is an infection of the lungs caused by different viruses. It begins in the nose and throat, and is highly contagious. It’s a serious infection that can lead to pneumonia, even in people who are normally very healthy.

Some children may experience nausea or vomiting.

How does it spread?

Influenza is transmitted through infected saliva from coughing or sneezing. It can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, like doorknobs, telephone receivers and soiled tissues.

Washing your hands and cleaning common surfaces kills the virus and is a good way to help stop influenza from spreading.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptoms of influenza are:

  • chills
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • muscle pains
  • headache
  • coughing
  • fatigue

One of the warning signs that influenza has progressed to a more serious disease is when you start to feel better, only to develop a high fever. This is a sign of bacterial pneumonia.

Most healthy people recover from influenza in a week to ten days. People with chronic diseases, children, infants and people over 65 can be hit hard by influenza and suffer severe complications, like pneumonia.

Comparing cold and flu symptoms:

Symptoms Influenza Cold
Fever High (39°– 40°C), lasts 3–4 days Rare
Headache Common, can be severe Rare
General aches, pains Common, often severe Sometimes, mild
Fatigue, weakness Common, severe Sometimes, mild
Extreme fatigue Early onset, can be severe Rare
Stuffy nose Common Common
Chest discomfort & cough Common, can become severe Mild to moderate
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Sore throat Common Common

How can I protect myself and people around me?

Yukon provides free flu shots to all Yukoners.

The flu season can be a miserable time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting immunized every year helps. This is because the most common types of influenza change from year to year.

Scientists around the world look at which types (strains) of influenza are circulating and predict which strains will be most common in the upcoming flu season— usually November through March. However, so many different strains of the flu virus circulate at any given time that it’s impossible to guarantee that the immunization you get will be 100% effective.

Although immunization is the best way to prevent influenza, good respiratory hygiene is very important, especially during cold and flu season.

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
  • Put tissues in the garbage right away.
  • Wash your hands often and well, using soap and water.

More About Influenza

Typically, influenza is a seasonal disease. In Yukon, we normally start seeing our first cases in late December or January. Some years, the season can last well into the summer.

There have been flu pandemics for thousands of years. Pandemic influenza tends to be a new strain that targets young, healthy adults. Perhaps the most famous—and deadly—was the flu pandemic of 1918 (the Spanish flu). Nobody knows for sure how many people died, but the estimates range from 20 to 130 million people, from a worldwide population of 1.86 billion at the time.

In 2009, a new influenza strain developed, H1N1, which became a pandemic. There was a major push to immunize as many people as possible. In Yukon, we were lucky in that H1N1 disease arrived at about the same time as immunization against it.