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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
February 14, 2018

What to do when you have the flu

A lot of people aren’t sure what to do when they think they’re coming down with the flu. The answer might surprise you. Dr. Pernica, an infectious disease specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences,  shares his advice on what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one has the flu.

There are many different viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms. Influenza virus (the flu) is typically the most severe. It tends to include fever, difficulty breathing, general feelings of unwellness and sometimes body pains.

What if I have those symptoms?

In adults who are otherwise healthy, the best thing to do if you suspect you have the flu is to rest, stay hydrated and stay home from work if you’re feeling unwell. Generally healthy adults don’t need to see a doctor for the flu unless they are having significant difficulty breathing or trouble functioning. If you are having substantial difficulty breathing, you should talk to a healthcare professional.

REMEMBER: The flu is a virus. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, meaning they can’t fight flu. Using antibiotics unnecessarily can have negative side effects on your body.

What about kids?

Generally, healthy kids who are showing flu symptoms don’t need to see a doctor. They should rest, drink lots of fluids and stay home from school if they feel unwell. If your child is very unwell and/or has the following symptoms, they should see a doctor:

  • they are having trouble breathing
  • they can’t keep liquids down and are vomiting (reduced appetite is okay, but if they’re not drinking, seek help)

If you think you need medical attention

Below are several options if you think you need medical attention. For more information visit

  • Make an appointment with your family doctor – for symptoms that can wait (which applies to most of us with a flu or common cold)
  • Visit an urgent care centre – for symptoms that aren’t emergencies, but can’t wait to be seen by your family doctor. Find an urgent care centre in your area.
  • Go to your nearest emergency department or call 9-1-1 – for life-threatening illness or injury.
  • Call Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000) if you’re not sure whether or not you need to see a medical professional.

How do I avoid getting the flu in the first place?

Even before someone has symptoms, they can spread the flu by sneezing, coughing and talking. These actions release tiny droplets containing the flu virus into the air. You can become infected if these droplets land in your nose, eyes or mouth.

You can also become infected if you touch any of these body parts after touching an object contaminated with the flu, like doorknobs, phones or someone’s hands.

Prevention is key to tackling the flu. The flu vaccination is the most important thing you can do to avoid getting the flu yourself and spreading it to others.

It’s also important to wash your hands with soap and water after exposure to anyone who has fever, runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, or is sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

If you have a cough or are sneezing, make sure you do your part to stop the spread of germs. Watch the video below.

How to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing:

  • Never cough into your bare hand!
  • Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
  • Dispose of the tissue immediately. Don’t save it for later.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, tuck your nose and mouth into the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often, using soap and water or hand sanitizer