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Facts About...


What is it?

  • Influenza (“the flu”) is a serious respiratory illness that is caused by a virus.
  • It can lead to severe illness and complications which may result in hospitalization.
  • People with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, young children and the elderly are at greater risk for flu complications.
  • Influenza virus can cause epidemics or outbreaks because the virus is constantly changing.
  • Pandemic influenza is a worldwide epidemic caused by an influenza virus that has undergone a major genetic change. Most people will have no protection against this new influenza virus.
  • Historically, pandemics can occur 3-4 times each century. One of the worst pandemics was the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed over 20 million people worldwide.
  • The latest global influenza pandemic, caused by the H1N1 virus, was declared in June 2009.

How is it spread?

  • The flu spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing and direct contact with hands, surfaces and items that have been in contact with the flu virus.
  • A person can spread the flu virus before symptoms start and up to 7 days after getting sick.
  • Children and people with weakened immune systems may be infectious for a longer period of time.
  • With the increase in global travel in recent years, the flu can spread around the world rapidly within weeks to months causing a pandemic.

What do I look for?

  • People of any age can get the flu and symptoms can vary.
  • Common symptoms may include fever, headache, chills, cough, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and sore throat.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also be symptoms of the flu, especially in children.
  • In the elderly, young children and people with weakened immune systems, influenza can lead to more serious conditions such as pneumonia or even death.

How is it treated?

  • Antiviral drugs can be used to decrease the severity and shorten the length of an influenza-related illness.

What is being done to reduce the impact of the next pandemic?

  • Health Canada has developed a Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan that details how Canada will prepare for and respond to a pandemic when it occurs.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has also developed a contingency plan in preparation for the next pandemic, based on international and national guidelines.
  • The Durham Region Health Department has prepared a Pandemic Influenza Plan that also details how Durham Region will prepare for and respond to a pandemic when it occurs.

When will an effective vaccine be available?

  • During a pandemic, the new influenza virus will be different from previous influenza viruses we have encountered in the past.
  • We cannot predict what the new virus will look like, so the development of an effective vaccine cannot begin until the virus has been identified.
  • Once the new influenza virus has been identified, it could take 4-6 months for an effective vaccine to be produced.

How can I protect my family and myself?

  • Receive annual influenza vaccinations. The seasonal influenza vaccine will offer protection against other circulating influenza viruses.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when hands are not visibly dirty. (i.e., after disposing of used facial tissues).
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve.
  • Do not share water bottles, straws, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, toys or anything else that has been in contact with saliva, nose or throat secretions.
  • If you are ill, stay at home and isolate yourself from others.
  • Should a pandemic occur, visit the Durham Region Health Department’s website ( for up-to-date information.

April 12, 2016