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Cold, Cough and Flu

As temperatures drop and winter approaches, so does the risk of catching a variety of respiratory illnesses. From the common cold to more serious issues like bronchitis and pneumonia, it’s important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself.

The most common respiratory illness during the winter months is the common cold. Symptoms of a cold include coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and general fatigue. If your cold persists or gets worse after a few days, you may have developed bronchitis or pneumonia. Both of these illnesses are caused by bacteria and can be very serious.

In addition to the common cold, other illnesses that are more likely to occur in the winter months are the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). The flu is caused by the influenza virus and can cause fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue. RSV is a virus that affects the lungs and can cause severe respiratory illness in infants and young children.

Common flu symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • cough
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • muscle and body aches
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • In children: ear pain, vomiting and diarrhea

Some side effects of the flu vaccine (fever, headache, fatigue) can look similar to COVID-19 symptoms. If these occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and last 1-2 days. Seek health care advice if symptoms continue.

During the respiratory illness season (late fall to early spring), you can take preventative measures to keep yourself and others healthy. This includes:

  • staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots
  • wearing a tight-fitting, well-constructed mask in indoor public settings, especially anyone at higher risk of severe infection
  • screening daily for signs of illness and staying home when you are sick
  • washing your hands often
  • covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • regularly cleaning high touch surfaces

For more information on how to protect yourself and others, read Public Health Ontario’s fact sheet.

Flu symptoms can be treated with plenty of rest, fluids (water is best) and over-the-counter medication to reduce any fever or aches.

Over-the-counter cough and flu medicine should not be given to children younger than 6 years old. It's only safe to do so if you're advised to by your health care provider.

If your symptoms become severe of worse, seek medical attention immediately.

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