Flu season: Signs you’re too sick and should stay home

The flu season is in full swing with influenza outbreaks and hospitalizations reported across the country. Getty Images

You have a lingering cough, runny nose and a headache. Should you go to work today?

The flu season is in full swing with influenza outbreaks and hospitalizations reported across the country. Chances are you or your kids are waking up to a fever, sore throat or other symptoms.

“If you or your child gets the flu, it’s not a hard question to answer. We always encourage people not to go to work if they’re sick,” Dr. Gerald Evans, a Queen’s University professor and chief of infectious diseases at Kingston General Hospital, told Global News.

READ MORE: Flu outbreaks, hospitalizations reported across Canada, latest numbers show

Sixty-four per cent of Canadians go to work when they’re sick or send their kids to school if they’re sick too, according to Bhavika Prajapati, a pharmacist and owner of two Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies.

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“When you do that, you’re spreading germs and amplifying sickness,” she warned.

Don’t be a hero if you’re under the weather. Here are the signs you need bed rest instead of heading into the office:

A sudden onset typically means you’ve got the flu: Evans said that the “classic thing” he hears from patients is that it came out of nowhere. They were feeling great and then a fever, aches and nausea came on fast.

READ MORE: What happens to your body when you get the flu, step by step

“Any illness that manifests with a sudden onset, a severe sore throat, cough and headache, you should stay home. That’s usually useful markers of things more serious than your class rhinovirus that sneaks up on you over a few days,” Evans explained.

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You’re burning up: You need to stay home if your temperature passes 100F or about 38C. That means you’ve got a full on fever. And keep in mind, you need to be fever-free for at least 24 hours before heading back to work.

It’s more than a head cold: The symptoms overlap so sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re battling a cold or something more. The signature sign that you have a cold is that most of your ailments are around your head – a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, sometimes even a cough or sore throat. The flu comes with extras such as a fever, chills, muscle aches, lethargy and loss of appetite.

You’re running to the washroom: Throwing up or grappling with bouts of diarrhea? You’ve got the flu and more than a small ailment, according to Prajapati.

“You’re contagious at this point and you want to avoid spreading it altogether,” she said.

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Your kids are sick: Gerald notes that for some households, staying home is an expense because a parent has to take the day off of work. If your child is sick, you need to take one for the team and stay home or find a grandparent or babysitter to help out.

READ MORE: 7 steps to surviving the cold and flu season without getting sick

“Don’t make this an economical decision,” he said.

What’s happened with this year’s flu season? If you caught the flu over the holidays, you weren’t alone. The flu season arrived in Canada just in time for Christmas and the New Year. “Greater numbers” of influenza were reported across the country.

By Dec. 17, there were 692 influenza cases across the country – H3N2, as predicted, was the dominant strain of flu virus circulating, according to the latest Flu Watch update.

READ MORE: Here’s what works and what doesn’t when you’re fighting a cough and cold

There were even 88 lab-confirmed flu outbreaks this season so far with most of them happening in long-term care facilities. With that detail in mind, seniors accounted for the largest proportion of people ending up in hospital or dying from the flu.

(H3N2 is a virus that traditionally affects older patients more, leading to serious complications and higher rates of hospitalizations.)

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British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia saw the greatest flu activity across the country. Alberta even recorded two flu-related deaths by December.

New government numbers will shed light on how the rest of December fared with flu activity soon.

READ MORE: What Canadians should expect from the 2016-17 flu season

The past few years have been a tumultuous ride when it comes to influenza. In 2014, Canadian hospitals were battling enterovirus in children while monitoring for Ebola across the country.

By 2015, global health officials were rocked by a flu vaccine mismatch which meant that the shot was only 23 per cent effective against that season’s nasty H3N2 virus.

And last year, a combination of factors – a warm winter, a better-matched vaccine and round two of H3N2 – meant that the flu season didn’t pick up steam until well into February.

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