Seasonal Flu FAQ

What is the flu?

“The flu,” more properly known as seasonal influenza, is a common and very contagious infection. The flu affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is spread through droplets that have been coughed or sneezed by someone who has the flu. You can get the flu by shaking hands with someone who has the flu or by touching surfaces that have come into contact with flu droplets, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Flu symptoms include a sudden fever or feeling feverish as well as a cough and/or a sore throat. It is common to also have a runny or stuffy nose, head- or body-aches, and chills.  You may feel more tired than usual and have a lower appetite. Some people (mostly children) also have nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. 


What can I do to prevent the flu?

Your best shot at beating the flu is by getting your flu vaccine. The earlier you get the vaccine, the better your chances are to prevent it. The flu is a serious viral infection that can have severe complications. Anyone can get the flu virus. The flu is not just a cold. You could miss school, work, parties, holidays, or even end up in the hospital.

The flu vaccine helps your body help itself. The vaccine will trigger your body to fight off infection if you come into contact with the flu. This means you either will not get the flu, or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. Different flu viruses can affect people every year, so the vaccine needs to be updated annually. This is why it is important to be immunized each fall.

Each year, different strains of the flu virus appear. Scientists predict which strains will be most likely to affect us for the coming year. These strains are used to make up the year's flu vaccine. This year’s flu vaccines are made to protect you against three different flu viruses for the flu vaccine administered to adult and four different flu viruses for the vaccine administered to children 6 months to 17 years of age:

  • Two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and
  • Two influenza B virus.

Getting your flu vaccine is good for everyone. When more people get their flu vaccine, the odds of the flu virus spreading goes down. This protects those who are most vulnerable such as children under five, adults 65 years or older, pregnant women, as well as those living with chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. The flu shot prevents about 300 deaths and 1,000 hospitalizations each year in Ontario.

You can also stop the spread of the flu by following a few easy steps.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your arm, not your hand.
  • Avoid crowds, public gathering and stay at home if you are sick.
  • Do not visit hospitalized patients if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.


Is the flu vaccine safe?

The flu vaccine has been proven to be safe for anyone 6 months of age or older. Children under 5 years old have the highest rate of serious illness and death from flu, which means it is even more important for them to get the flu vaccine. Children aged 6 to 9 years have the highest rate of flu. They are considered to be the “big spreaders.” Get your child the flu vaccine as early as possible to protect your family.


Where can I get my flu vaccine?

It is easier than ever to get your flu vaccine. Anyone aged six months and older who lives, works or attends school in Ontario is eligible to receive the publicly funded flu vaccine.

You can get your flu vaccine from: 

To find a flu clinic close to you, visit the Ontario flu website ( Just enter your postal code or address. Remember to call ahead to check hours of service. 


What options do I have for the type of flu vaccine I receive?

The flu vaccine program is publicly funded, which means that it is provided at no cost through your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or Ottawa Public Health community clinic. Anyone aged six months and older who lives, works or attends school in Ontario is eligible to receive the publicly funded influenza vaccine. The type of vaccine that is publicly funded is usually given intramuscularly. This means that the vaccine is given using a needle, which is injected into a muscle. This option is suitable for most Ottawa residents.

There is an alternative option to the injected flu vaccine that is part of Ontario’s publicly funded program. FluMist® is a needle-free way of receiving the flu vaccine. It has been approved for people aged 2 to 17 years. A fine mist is sprayed into your nose rather than getting a needle. Ask your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or Ottawa Public Health Nurse for more information if you feel that this option might be best for you.


Special clinics for children under 5 years old

Ottawa Public Health offers free appointment-based clinics for children 6 months to under 5 years old and their families. Children under 5 years old have the highest rate of serious illness and death from flu.  It is even more important for them to get the flu vaccine. To register your child under 5, call the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656).


How can my workplace organize a flu clinic?

Setting up a flu clinic at your workplace can be easy. Your first step is to contact a local health care agency in your area. Visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s page for workplaces to find out more.

Workplaces that have an occupational health department can organize a clinic themselves with their own equipment. The application for the 2016-17 period is now closed. The registration period is typically open for one month starting in June. For more information about registering for the Universal Influenza Immunization Program (UIPP), please visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term care’s UIIP information page.


What is the difference between a cold and flu?

Many people confuse the terms “cold” and “flu.” Influenza (flu) is a serious viral infection. The flu is not just a cold. You could miss school, work, parties, holidays, or even end up in the hospital. Below is a list of common symptoms of the flu compared with a common cold.


Influenza (Flu)



Usually high
Last 3-4 days



Can be severe


Aches & Pain

Often severe



Moderate to severe
Can last up to 1 month

Not common

Extreme fatigue

Can be severe

Not common

Sniffles or Sneezes



Sore throat




Can be severe

Mild to moderate


Pneumonia or worsening
of underlying medical conditions
which can be life-threatening

Sinus or ear infection


What can I do to ease symptoms if I have the flu?

If you have flu-like symptoms, including a fever, a cough, severe headache and/or chills, be sure to:

  • Rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Take basic pain or fever relievers.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Gargle with a glass of warm water or suck on hard candy or lozenges.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.


If I have the flu, when should I call my doctor?

Contact your doctor if symptoms are severe and do not improve after a few days.

Call your health care provider right away if you have flu symptoms and you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have a chronic health problem that requires regular medical attention
  • Are elderly or frail
  • Have an illness or are receiving treatments – for example, for diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS – that might affect your immune system
  • Have a child under three months of age who has a fever over 38° C or 100.4° F

There are many ways to get non-emergency medical care. Trained professionals from Telehealth Ontario and the Ottawa Public Health Information line can answer your questions by phone, and family doctors, nurses and other health care providers can provide care.

For the latest public health information, you can contact Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) or on Facebook and Twitter (@ottawahealth). To reach Telehealth Ontario, call 1-866-797-0000