Common questions about influenza

What is influenza?

Influenza is a virus that attacks the respiratory system – nose, throat, and lungs – and can lead to pneumonia and even death.

Influenza is easily spread by droplets in the air, when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Influenza viruses can also live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours, and on soft surfaces like clothing for eight to 10 hours. If your child touches these surfaces and then puts their hand in their mouth, nose or eyes, he or she can be infected.

Children are particularly vulnerable to influenza, and are more likely to be hospitalized for serious complications from influenza.

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What causes influenza?

Influenza, sometimes called “the flu,” is caused by influenza viruses that attack your respiratory system – nose, throat and lungs. The virus can be passed on from the day before the first symptoms until at least five to seven days after the symptoms start.

Each year, new types – or strains – of seasonal influenza virus come to our communities. Without immunization each and every influenza season, your child is at risk for influenza.

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What are the symptoms of influenza?

Symptoms of influenza usually begin suddenly, and include:

  • headache, which can be severe
  • chills and aches, which are often severe
  • extreme tiredness, which can last two to three weeks or more
  • fever (of 38.5 C or 101.3 F or higher) that starts suddenly, and lasts three to four days
  • cough

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets influenza?

Your baby or child is at particularly high risk of getting seriously ill from influenza. Babies and young children are more likely to be hospitalized due to influenza, and more likely to suffer difficulty breathing and even pneumonia. Influenza can also cause severe tiredness in your child, a lack of appetite, a cough, seizures or convulsions.

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Is there a treatment or cure for influenza?

There is no cure for influenza.

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How can I protect my child?

Each year, new types – or strains – of seasonal influenza virus come to our communities. Without immunization each and every influenza season, your child is at risk for influenza.

Be sure to have your child immunized against seasonal influenza every fall (starting at six months of age).

Influenza vaccine is available, across Alberta, from about mid to late October through March. Visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza for information on Alberta’s influenza immunization program.

In addition to getting your child his or her seasonal influenza immunization every fall, be sure to teach your child to wash his or her hands regularly (with warm water and soap), and to cover his or her cough with his or her elbow instead of his or her hand.

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Should my child be immunized against influenza?

All children six months or older are recommended to be immunized against seasonal influenza, every fall.  For more information on Alberta’s annual influenza immunization program, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza

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What is the name of the immunization that includes protection against influenza?

You will hear influenza immunization called many different things, including “seasonal influenza vaccine,” “annual influenza vaccine” and “the flu shot.” You may also hear about “FluMist” or “nasal spray”: these are words used to describe influenza immunization that can be given to your child as a spray inhaled up the nose (instead of through a needle).

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At what age is it recommended that my child be immunized against influenza?

If your child is six months of age or older, it is recommended that you have your child immunized against influenza each year, in the fall.

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Are there side effects to the influenza vaccine?

Most children have no side effects from the influenza vaccine.

Side effects that do happen are mild and usually last only one to three days after immunization.

Children who get their influenza immunization by needle may feel:

  • redness, mild pain, and/or swelling where the needle was given
  • irritable and/or tired
  • headache
  • muscle aches and pains
  • chills or fever (temperature of 38.5 C or 101.3 F or higher)

Children who get their influenza immunization by nasal spray may have:

  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • decreased appetite
  • fever (temperature of 38.5 C or 101.3 F or higher)
  • weakness
  • headache
  • cough

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Can my child get influenza from the influenza immunization/flu shot?

No, influenza immunization (sometimes called the flu shot) can’t cause influenza.

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What is the difference between influenza, the common cold and the stomach flu?
  Seasonal Influenza Common Cold Stomach “Flu”

Caused by

Influenza A or Influenza B viruses Many different kinds of viruses such as rhinovirus, coronavirus, adenovirus, etc. NOT CAUSED BY INFLUENZA VIRUS Norovirus (or Norwalk-like viruses) is the most common; however, there are many causes of stomach upset. NOT CAUSED BY INFLUENZA VIRUS

Prevention

Annual influenza immunization protects against the strains of influenza virus circulating that season Cannot be prevented by immunization Cannot be prevented by immunization

Involves whole body

Usually Never Never

Symptoms appear quickly

Yes No. Symptoms appear gradually Yes

Headache

Yes, and can be severe Rarely Sometimes

Chills, aches, pain

Yes, and often severe Rarely Common

Extreme tiredness

Yes, and may last two to three weeks or more Rarely Sometimes

Fever

Yes. High fever, beginning suddenly and lasting three to four days, is common Sometimes Rarely

Cough

Usually Sometimes Rarely

Download a copy of this chart here.

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Will influenza immunization protect my child from the common cold or the stomach flu?

No – your child’s seasonal influenza immunization will protect your child from the influenza viruses circulating this season. It won’t protect your child from illnesses that are not caused by these influenza viruses. The common cold and the stomach flu aren’t caused by influenza viruses, so the influenza immunization will not prevent them.

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Will influenza immunization protect my child immediately after he or she gets it?

It takes about two weeks after your child gets his or her seasonal influenza immunization for your child’s body to develop the antibodies – or armour – against influenza. This is why it’s important to have your child immunized early in the influenza season (in October), to be sure that he or she is protected before influenza arrives in our community.

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Does influenza immunization protect my child for life?

No, your child needs to get his or her seasonal influenza immunization every fall, to be protected.

The seasonal influenza immunization that you child should get every fall will protect your child against the influenza viruses that will be circulating over the next few months (“influenza season”). But, the influenza immunization your child gets this season will not protect your child next season. This is because the influenza viruses that will be circulating next season are different than they are this season. The immunization your child gets each season (in the fall) will protect him or her only against the viruses circulating that season.

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Is this disease called any other names?

Influenza is sometimes referred to as the flu. This can sometimes be confusing, as influenza is not the same as stomach flu or the common cold.  The terrible Spanish Flu epidemic was also caused by influenza.  Learn more about the differences here.

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