Women's Health Matters

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Seasonal Flu

Our guest expert in December 2010 was Sonja Cobham, manager of infection prevention and control at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

Sonja is a registered nurse with over 27 years experience working in health care in nursing, sterile processing and infection control. At Women’s College, she is a key driver in the development, execution and evaluation of infection control practices, ensuring compliance with government and external agencies.

She is also a member of the Toronto Practitioners in Infection Control, a chapter of Community and Hospital Infection Control – Canada (CHICA), and received her certification in infection control from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

Here are her answers to your questions on Seasonal Flu.

Q: What are the risks associated with the flu shot?

A: The most common side-effects people experience are mild soreness at the site where the shot was given, fever and feeling tired and achy. These usually last one or two days. More severe side-effects and allergic reactions are rare, and in very rare instances the flu shot has been associated with a temporary neurological condition causing muscle paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Anyone who has a severe allergy to eggs or has had a severe reaction to any component of the vaccine should not get the flu shot.


Q: Does washing my hands really prevent the flu? 

A: Hands spread about 80 per cent of infectious diseases, and the use of soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer are both effective in reducing transmission of the flu.


Q: What is the difference between the flu and a cold?

A: The common cold causes runny nose, sneezing, cough and sore throat, whereas the flu usually causes fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue in addition to coughing, sneezing and sore throat. Children may also get nausea, vomiting and diarrhea with the flu.


Q: How is the flu spread to other people?

A: Influenza is spread through coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by shaking hands, or by touching surfaces or objects that someone with flu has touched and then touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you have the flu you should stay away from children, elderly and sick people so they don’t catch the flu from you.


Q: What is the best way to treat the flu?

A: If you do get the flu get lots of rest, drink fluids and ask your doctor if you can take medications to reduce the aches and fever. If your flu is caught early, your doctor may also prescribe anti-influenza drugs to ease your discomfort and shorten the length of your illness.


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