By: Vishal Mehta, BPharm, RPh,

There is so much to enjoy in autumn. We are surrounded with beautiful colours and bounty of the harvest season. Inevitably, we also begin to see more cases of flu, hampering our ability to make the most of the fall.

So how do we ensure we keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe? Flu, short for influenza, is a respiratory viral infection caused by the influenza A and B strains. It is contagious and can be transmitted via droplets of respiratory fluids when someone coughs or sneezes OR when in contact with a surface, such as doorknobs or countertops, that has been sneezed on.

Symptoms of the flu commonly include fever, headaches, chills, cough and exhaustion. Since the virus can take up to four days to incubate, it is possible to be contagious even before symptoms appear, often within a day after the virus enters the body. At times, it can be difficult to distinguish between the flu and the common cold (which is caused by other viruses). The distinction is made by the doctor based on symptoms, particularly a high fever, a headache and extreme exhaustion at the start of infection.

Treatment for the flu mainly involves targeting the symptoms. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the fever, headache and body aches. Cough suppressants will help; however, antibiotics are NOT effective, as flu is a viral infection. Antiviral medications can sometimes be used to shorten the duration of the flu and reduce symptom, but ideally they should be taken within two days of start of symptoms.

An annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu and its complications. However, there is still a chance that you can get the flu – although your symptoms may be milder. The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone aged six months and older. Because the flu viruses can change from year to year, vaccination needs to be repeated every year.