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Flu (Influenza)

Description

The flu is a respiratory infection that is spread easily. It is caused by the influenza virus. 

This virus circulates each year in Québec and elsewhere in the world. In Québec, it especially spreads during the end of the fall to the beginning of the spring.

The duration of the flu season may vary. As such, it may start earlier or later and last shorter or longer depending on the year.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms and their severity can vary depending on age and health condition. The main symptoms are the following:

  • Sudden fever between 38 °C and 40 °C (100,4 °F and 104 °F)
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscular pain
  • Acute general discomfort lasting several days

Children can also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pains.

Flu is often confused with other respiratory infections such as the cold. For more on this, see Differences between Flu and Cold.

When to Seek Medical Help

Generally, the flu can be treated at home. In certain cases however, you must see a doctor.

If you are in a group of people at high risk of complications and have flu-like symptoms, please call Info-Santé 8-1-1 to get your health condition evaluated by a nurse. Based on your condition, the nurse will give you instructions to follow.

Same Day Consultation

You should seek medical help the same day if you have flu-like symptoms and have one of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain when breathing

Immediate Consultation at an emergency room

You must go to an emergency room immediately if you have flu-like symptoms and also one of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing that persists or increases suddenly
  • Blue lips
  • Difficulty moving
  • Significant stiffness of the neck
  • Drowsiness, difficulty staying awake
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Seizures (body stiffens and muscles contract in a jerky and involuntary manner)
  • No urine output for 12 hours

If your child has a fever and seems very sick, lacks energy and refuses to play, promptly take them to a doctor.

Should you require immediate help, call 9-1-1.

Treatment

Most people in good health get better from the flu by themselves after 5 to 7 days. You should get good rest and eat according to your appetite.

However, coughing and fatigue may last for 2 weeks or even longer.

You  may relieve symptoms of the flu by taking the following measures:

Drink much liquids often

If you have a fever, your body naturally loses a lot of fluid, especially through sweating. It is therefore important to drink a lot and often.

  • Drink preferably cold or hot liquids: water, milk, juice, broth
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks: coffee, tea, energy drinks. As these drink make you urinate, they therefore increase fluid loss

Use medication according to instructions  

In the absence of complications or risk factors, treatment of the flu requires no prescription medication. However, you may take over the counter medicine (non-prescription medicine) to relieve fever and pain. Examples of such medicine is acetaminophen, Tylenol® for example, and ibuprophen, Advil® for example.

Avoid taking medications that include the same ingredients together. For example, you should not take Tylenol® and Tylenol® Sinus together because they both contain acetaminophen.

In certain cases, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine to reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms. This type of medication is most effective when taken at the onset of an infection.

Children and Adolescents

If your child is over 3 months old and has a fever, you may give them acetaminophen, following instructions on the product label and according to your child’s weight.

Avoid giving children and adolescents acetylsalicylic acid such as Aspirin®. Indeed, it has been observed that intake of this medication by children and adolescents with flu can lead to the development of Reye's Syndrome, a serious disease of the brain and liver.

Complications

The flu can lead to certain complications:

  • Dehydration due to sweating caused by fever
  • Otitis (ear infection)
  • Sinusitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia

For people considered more vulnerable to sickness, certain complications can lead to hospitalization or even death.

People at High Risk of Complications

People at high risk of complications are among following:

  • Children less than 2 years old
  • People with certain chronic diseases
  • Healthy pregnant women during their 2nd and 3rd
  • Pregnant women with certain chronic diseases regardless of which trimester they are in  
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People aged 60 years and over

Transmission

The flu virus lives best in fresh and dry areas. It can survive for up to 2 days on contaminated objects.

The flu virus is very contagious. It is spread quickly from person to person in the following ways:

  • By droplets sprayed through the mouth or nose by an infected person when they cough or sneeze
  • Through direct contact with a person with flu, by kissing for example
  • When you bring your hand to your nose, mouth or eyes after shaking the hand of someone infected or touching contaminated objects

A person infected with flu virus may be contagious:

  • 24 hours before showing symptoms
  • Up to 7 days after the onset of symptoms, and sometimes even a bit longer if it is a child

However, the risk of infection is higher during the first 3 or 4 days after the onset of symptoms.

If you have the flu, avoid direct contact as much as possible with people at high risk of complications. This way, you reduce the risk of transmitting to them the illness.

Protection and Prevention

The best way to protect yourself from complications of the flu is through vaccination.

Certain protection and cleanliness measures can also help prevent transmission of the flu.

At all times

If you have the flu

  • Stay at home as soon as you notice symptoms of the flu. Unless otherwise advised by a doctor, home is the best place for treatment. By staying at home, you limit contact with other people or with other infections that may cause complications. You also limit transmission of the virus
  • Follow advice for Coughing or Sneezing Without Contaminating 

Last update: October 24, 2013 2:20 PM

The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a health professional.

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