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Get the FAQ about the FLU!

Our guest expert in November 2011 was Jessica Ip, infection prevention and control (IP&C) practitioner at Women’s College Hospital. In her previous role as an IP&C co-ordinator, she played an integral part in the advancement of the Hand Hygiene Program at WCH. In addition to her role as an IP&C co-ordinator, she has worked as a project co-ordinator at the University Health Network where she planned and co‑ordinated a national patient safety initiative designed to reduce the spread of “superbugs” in health-care facilities.

Jessica answered questions about the flu shot, common misconceptions and additional ways to protect yourself from the flu!

Check out the latest answers to your questions.

Q: I would like to know if there is a ‘best’ time of the year to get the flu shot.

A: Since the flu shot takes two weeks to provide full protection against the flu, the earlier you get it, the better. The flu shot is available starting in October, so the best time to get it would be in the fall. In Canada, the flu season usually begins in November and ends in April. From the time you get the flu shot, it will protect you for about six months.


Q: I am pregnant (less than two months) and do not understand why catching the flu can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Is it necessary to get the flu shot when one is pregnant?

A: It is highly recommended for pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy to get the flu shot to protect themselves from the flu. Catching the flu when you’re pregnant can be dangerous because pregnant women, especially those in their second and third trimester, are at a greater risk of developing complications such as pneumonia and may require hospitalization if they get the flu. This is mainly because their immune system is suppressed during their pregnancy. Getting the flu shot is safe and recommended for all pregnant women.


Q: I am feeling ill. Can I still get the flu shot?

A: If you have a mild to severe acute illness with a fever, you should wait until you feel better and the symptoms are gone before receiving the flu shot. If you have a minor illness such as a cold, you can still get the flu shot. The main reason we recommend waiting until you feel better is because if you feel worse after the flu shot but were already sick before you got it, it will be hard for your doctor to determine what is making you feel worse—your illness or the flu shot.


Q: I got the flu shot last year, do I need to get it again this year?

A: Yes, you should get the flu shot again this year. Since flu viruses change rapidly, the flu shot will protect you from the three virus strains that are most likely to cause the flu in the coming flu season. From the time you last got the flu shot, you would have only had protection from the flu for about six months, so you will need to get the flu shot again to be protected this year.

Q: Do I have to get the flu shot? Are there other ways to protect myself from getting the flu?

A: The best way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to get the flu shot! Here are some additional tips on how to avoid getting the flu this season:

  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. In studies, people who cleaned their hands at least five times a day were significantly less likely to get a respiratory virus infection. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.
  • Keep common surfaces and objects clean and disinfected because flu viruses and other germs can often be found on them.
  • When you cough or sneeze, remember to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue to protect those around you.


Q: I am a senior and I travel a lot during the fall, winter and spring. I get the flu shot every year, but many times during these trips I would get a cold, cough or flu. Why?

During the time of year when the flu shot is available (fall and winter), other non-flu viruses such as cold viruses are circulating and can cause flu-like symptoms. When people catch the cold (or other viruses), they often have mistaken it for the flu. The flu shot does not protect you from getting other respiratory illnesses that are not caused by the flu virus.

Also, as mentioned above in question one, it takes two weeks for the flu shot to take effect. During this two-week period when the body is gaining full protection against the flu, people can become ill with the flu if they are exposed to the flu virus.

Q: Can the flu shot help with the “stomach flu?”

A: No. The reason why is because the flu shot protects you from influenza (the flu), which is a different illness than the “stomach flu.” Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, whereas the “stomach flu” is a stomach or intestinal illness that can be caused by different viruses and bacteria or even parasites.

People often use the term “stomach flu” to describe symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While those who catch influenza may sometimes show these symptoms, it is not commonly found to be the main symptoms that describe the flu. 




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