Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season
Getting the Flu Vaccine
Getting the flu can impact your ability to attend your classes, complete assignments or attend to other commitments like going to work or seeing family. The flu can keep you off your feet for from 2 – 14 days.
The Region of Waterloo Public Health department defines the flu as “a serious, acute, respiratory infection that is caused by a virus.” People who get the flu typically have a fever, chills, cough, runny eyes, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle and headaches, fatigue, and extreme weakness. Public Health notes that influenza typically lasts two to seven days but some symptoms, like a cough and fatigue can persist for several weeks. People can get quite sick from influenza, requiring hospitalization and in some cases, the flu can even cause death from complications. Even healthy, young people should get the vaccine, to avoid missing work or school, but also to avoid spreading influenza to people who might not have as well-developed of an immune system.
Reasons to get the influenza vaccine
There are so many reasons to get the flu shot, including:
- Avoiding sickness and helping others with a high-risk of flu complications.
- People in high-risk categories are strongly encouraged to get the influenza vaccine. Find out if you are in a high-risk category at the National Advisory Committee on Immunization website.
- You can carry the influenza virus and spread it to people who are at high-risk of complications without ever having symptoms.
- Flu Vaccines are free at Health Services with an appointment.
- The Flu shot does not cause the flu.
Getting the flu shot can be an effective way to maintain your health through cold and flu season. By avoiding the flu, you save time and energy for more important things like class, hanging out with friends, and visiting family members who might be at a high-risk for flu complications. You can make an appointment at Health Services to get your shot by calling 519-888-4096.
Sources: Region of Waterloo Flu Publication
Health Services provides flu clinics in October and November to help make it easy and convenient to get your flu vaccine and help stop the spread of influenza.
What is Influenza?
The Region of Waterloo Public Health department defines the flu as “a serious, acute, respiratory infection that is caused by a virus.” People who get the flu typically have a fever, chills, cough, runny eyes, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle and headaches, fatigue, and extreme weakness. Public Health notes that influenza typically lasts two to seven days but some symptoms, like cough and fatigue can persist for several weeks.
Why should I get the vaccine?
People can get quite sick from influenza, requiring hospitalization and in some cases, the flu can even cause death from complications. Even healthy, young people should get the vaccine, to avoid missing work or school, but also to avoid spreading influenza to people who might not have as well-developed of an immune system. Public Health notes: “Anyone could bring the influenza virus home to a baby, older relative, or someone with a medical condition who could develop serious complications from influenza.” People in high-risk categories are strongly encouraged to get the influenza vaccine.
Who is considered to be in a high-risk category?
People in the following high-risk categories are strongly encouraged to get the flu immunization: (Source: National Advisory Committee on Immunization)
- All pregnant women.
- Adults and children with the following chronic health conditions:
- cardiac or pulmonary disorders (including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, cystic fibrosis and asthma);
- diabetes mellitus and other metabolic diseases;
- cancer, immune compromising conditions (due to underlying disease, therapy or both);
- renal disease;
- anemia or hemoglobinopathy;
- neurologic or neurodevelopment conditions;
- morbid obesity (body mass index [BMI] ≥40);
- children and adolescents (age 6 months to 18 years) undergoing treatment for long periods with acetylsalicylic acid, because of the potential increase of Reye’s syndrome associated with influenza.
- People of any age who are residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.
- People ≥65 years of age.
- All children 6 to 59 months of age.
- Indigenous peoples.
People capable of transmitting influenza to those at high risk
- Health care and other care providers in facilities and community settings who, through their activities, are capable of transmitting influenza to those at high risk of influenza complications.
- Household contacts (adults and children) of individuals at high risk of influenza-related complications (whether or not the individual at high risk has been immunized):
- household contacts of individuals at high risk, as listed in the section above;
- household contacts of infants <6 months of age as these infants are at high risk of complications from influenza but cannot receive influenza vaccine;
- members of a household expecting a newborn during the influenza season.
- Those providing regular child care to children ≤59 months of age, whether in or out of the home.
- Those who provide services within closed or relatively closed settings to persons at high risk (e.g., crew on a ship).
How well does the influenza vaccine work?
According to Region of Waterloo Public Health: “When there is a good match between the influenza strains in the vaccine and the influenza strains circulating in the community, the vaccine can prevent influenza illness in 50 - 80 percent of healthy children and adults.” It does take about two weeks after a flu vaccination for your immune system to develop protection against the influenza virus, so get yours early.
Practising proper and frequent hand washing can help you to avoid picking up the latest cold and flu.
When to wash your hands
- When they have visible dirt on them
- Before and after you prepare or eat food; touch your eyes, nose, or mouth; or touch a cut or open sore.
- After you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose; handle uncooked foods; change a diaper; use the washroom; handle garbage; or play outside.
How to wash your hands
If running water is available, wet your hands and apply soap, lathering for 15 seconds and rubbing between your fingers, the back of your hands, fingertips, and under your nails. Rinse under running water and then dry your hands thoroughly with a paper towel or a hand dryer.
If soap and water are not available, a 70-90% alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used until you can get to a source of running water.
Always dispose of tissues immediately after you use them. Do not reuse tissues or keep used tissues in your pocket or around the house. If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with your elbow instead of your bare hand.
With the average flu lasting 2 - 14 days, getting sick can have a major impact on your ability to attend class, visit friends and family, or go to work. Following these tips and getting your flu shot can help you to avoid germs and hopefully stay healthy this winter. For more information about our Community Flu clinic, visit our Flu clinic page.
According to Parachute Canada, up to 90 per cent of serious injuries are predictable and, therefore, preventable. The most common unintentional injury-related deaths and unintentional injury-related hospitalizations for Canadians are falls and transportation injuries.
Falls in the winter
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency room visits in Canada. Although falls can happen at any time, winter increases the risk for falls. Be aware of your surroundings and use these guidelines when there is ice:
The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength:
- Clear blue ice is strongest.
- White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice.
- Grey ice is unsafe as it indicates the presence of water.
Ice thickness should be
- 15 cm (6 inches) for walking or skating alone.
- 20 cm (8 inches) for skating parties or games.
- 25 cm (10 inches) for snowmobiles.
Source: Parachute Canada Winter Safety
As a student, walking to classes is one of the main forms of transportation on campus. Pedestrian safety is an important aspect of preventing injuries while crossing the road. Being distracted puts pedestrians at a much higher risk of injury due to a vehicle. Avoid using your cell phone or other electronics while walking and especially while crossing the street.
Follow these tips from Safe and Responsibly Driving Ontario to avoid injuries from vehicle collisions:
- Eliminate distractions such as cell phones and food while you are driving
- Focus 100% of your attention on the road
- Be aware of what other drivers around you are doing
- Adjust your seat and mirrors before starting the car
- Don't attempt to pick up any items that fall while you are driving
- Maintain a safe distance from others at all times
- Always wear a seatbelt and drive sober and drug free
Riding a bike is one of the easiest ways to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine whether for transport or recreation. However, there are a number of bike riding safety tips that we should all be aware of when sharing the road with motorized vehicles.
Before riding your bike
- Every cyclist under the age of 18 is required by law to wear an approved helmet
- For adults, wearing a helmet is not law enforced but it is strongly suggested that a helmet should be worn regardless of age
- Make sure your bike is equipped with a working bell/horn as per the law in Ontario
- Check your chain, tires and brakes to make sure they are in good condition
- You are now ready to get on the road!
While riding your bike
- Be visible by wearing bright coloured clothing and using lights at the front and back of your bike
- Be predictable and signal your intentions with your arm
- Stay to the right of the road at all times so that you are riding with traffic
- Obey traffic laws as a bike is still considered a vehicle which means cyclists have the same responsibility as drivers on the road
- Stay off of sidewalks
- Dismount and walk your bicycle through cross walks
While riding your bike around the ion
- Always cross tracks at a right angle
- Look both ways before crossing and only cross at designated crossings
Navigating Cold Winters
Winter in Waterloo can be cold! Here is some information and tips on how to stay warm in the winter.
What is wind chill?
Wind chill is caused by the combined effect of temperature and wind. The wind chill index is not actually a real temperature but rather, represents the feeling of cold on your skin, it is reported without the degree sign.
For example: Today the temperature is -10° and the wind chill is -20.
Frost-nip and frostbite
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and colour in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body. If severe, it can lead to amputation.
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin-frostbite may be beginning.
- A mild form of frostbite, where only the skin freezes.
- Skin appears yellowish or white but feels soft to the touch.
- There is a painful tingling or burning sensation.
- A white or greyish-yellow skin area.
- Skin feels unusually firm or waxy.
- A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
What to do if you get frostbite
- Go inside and do not rub the skin.
- Remove all wet clothing and replace with dry clothing.
- Warm frostbitten areas slowly with a blanket or body heat.
- Call your doctor if the frostbitten area remains discoloured, blistered or numb.
Wind chill and risk of frostbite
|Wind chill||Risk of frostbite|
|0 to -9||Low|
|-10 to -27||Low|
|-28 to -39||Exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 min|
|-40 to -47||High risk - exposed skin can freeze in 5-10 min|
|-48 to -54||Very high risk - exposed skin can freeze in 2-5 min|
|-55 and colder||Extremely high risk - exposed skin can freeze in less than 2 min|
The risk of frostbite increases rapidly when wind chill values go below -27.
Being cold over a prolonged period of time can cause a drop in body temperature (below the normal 37°C). Shivering, confusion and loss of muscular control (e.g. difficulty walking) can occur. It can progress to a life-threatening condition where shivering stops or the person loses consciousness. Cardiac arrest may also occur.
Do not ignore shivering! This is an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
When hunting, fishing, snowmobiling or walking on frozen lakes or rivers, use extreme caution to prevent falling into the very cold water.
Tips to keep you warm
Dress in layers, the more layers the better. Layers trap air and keep you warm and you can regulate the warmth by taking off layers as needed. If you get too warm, you can take off a layer and/or open zippers for ventilation. You do not want to sweat because if you sweat, you get wet and if you get wet, you get cold.
What to wear
- Thermal underwear. Long-johns and a long sleeved shirt.
- Regular clothes with zippers/buttons if possible.
- Add a fleece jacket.
- Winter coat. A down coat is best as it is well insulated. Make sure the coat has a hood and ensure that all openings on the jacket seal. A long jacket would be the best.
- For your feet, wear warm socks preferably made of wool with waterproof/insulated boots.
- A hat. You lose more heat through your head than any other part of the body!
- Wear a scarf or a neck warmer to prevent heat loss from your body.
- Wear two pairs of gloves for optimal warmth. A thin pair along with mittens or regular gloves.
- If it is very cold or raining, wear snow pants or nylon rain-pants.
Tips to protect your skin
- Turn the temperature down in the shower. Hot water dries out your skin.
- Apply skin lotion as soon as you get out of the shower while your skin is still moist. This will trap in moisture.
- Avoid rubbing or scratching itchy skin.
- Use a humidifier - your skin and throat will love you!
- Protect your skin when outside. Wear a scarf, hat, and gloves.
- Use sunscreen during outdoor activities.
Region of Waterloo Public Health: Extreme Cold Weather (PDF)
Health Canada: Extreme Cold
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting occur in many disorders. The causes are varied and can be triggered by many factors. Nausea and vomiting without abdominal pain is usually the result of food poisoning, a viral infection (stomach bug), or motion sickness.
Nausea is a vague feeling of sickness in your stomach. When you are nauseated, you may feel weak and sweaty and have too much saliva in your mouth. You may even vomit. Sometimes vomiting is accompanied by retching, which is a spasmodic contraction of respiratory and abdominal muscles.
Most of the time, nausea and vomiting are not serious. Home treatment will often help you feel better and most people recover without any complications.
When vomiting occurs with diarrhea, there is an increased risk of dehydration which is potentially serious for young children, diabetics or people with an eating disorder.
If you are feeling queasy, these suggestions may help:
- Stay hydrated with clear fluids - suck on ice chips or frozen fruit pops, take small sips of water, weak tea, clear soft drinks such as ginger ale, non-caffeinated sports drinks or soup broth. Drinks containing sugar may calm your stomach better than other liquids. However, drinking too much liquid too quickly might worsen nausea and vomiting.
- Allow your stomach to settle by not eating solid foods for about six hours after the last time you vomited.
- When you start to feel better eat bland foods. Start with easily digested foods such as Jell-O or soda crackers. When you can keep these down, try dry cereal, toast, or soft canned fruit.
- Avoid fatty or spicy foods, and don't eat very sweet foods and rich pastries.
- Avoid dairy products till symptoms are gone.
- Take it easy. Activity may make nausea worse.
Before buying a product to treat nausea and/or vomiting, check the warning label for side effects and drug interactions. Always follow the directions and if you have any questions, always ask the pharmacist.
- Wash your hands thoroughly for 15-20 seconds after using the bathroom and before eating.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces such as counters.
- Don't eat or drink foods or liquids that might be contaminated. (i.e. don't share drinks with others).
- Don't leave foods out that need to be stored in the refrigerator, such as meat, dairy products, eggs, and cut fruit. Discard if these foods have been left at room temperature for two hours or more.
- If the smell of food makes you sick, try cold meals such as sandwiches and salad plates.
- If possible, let someone else do the cooking and leave the room while the food is being prepared.
- Drink or eat small amounts slowly and often throughout the day. This prevents your stomach from becoming full too quickly.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Try to get lots of fresh air in the kitchen while you are cooking and in rooms where you may be resting.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes for greater comfort.
- Get lots of rest, but do not lie down right after eating.
- Ginger can help to relieve nausea. Drink a cup of ginger tea or sniff some fresh cut ginger.
When to see a doctor
Occasional bouts of nausea and vomiting are usually nothing to worry about. Treatment will depend on what's causing your symptoms.
Consult your doctor or call Telehealth if:
- The queasiness is accompanied by fever, abdominal pain, or a severe headache - especially if you haven't had this type of headache before.
- You're unable to drink anything for twelve hours or keep liquids down for eight hours.
- The vomiting lasts more than two or three days and is accompanied by diarrhea.
- You have abdominal pain in your middle or lower right abdomen along with nausea and vomiting.
- You become dehydrated - you have excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, and severe weakness, dizziness, or light-headedness.
- Your vomit resembles coffee grounds or contains noticeable blood.
Contact Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000 or Health Services at 519-888-4096.
Do you have Asthma? A Respiratory Therapist from St. Mary’s General Hospital comes to Health Services regularly to assist students in managing their asthma. You can talk to your Health Services Doctor or Nurse Practitioner about making an appointment.
During a visit with the Respiratory Therapist you’ll complete:
- Breathing test (Spirometry)
- Asthma control assessment
- Medication needs assessment
Take our quiz to find out if a Respiratory Therapist appointment could be a good idea for you:
- Do you use your blue inhaler 2 or more times a week? (Except one dose/day for exercise)
- Do you cough, wheeze, or have a tight chest because of your asthma? (2 or more days a week)
- Do coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness wake you at night? (1 or more times a week)
- Have you stopped exercising because of your asthma? (In the past 3 months)
- Have you missed work or school because of your asthma (In the past 3 months)
If you answered Yes to any one of the five questions, talk to your doctor about improving your asthma control. To make an appointment with a Health Services Doctor or Nurse Practitioner, call 519-888-4096.
Bee Stings and Bug Bites
One of the best parts about campus during the spring, besides shorter lines for coffee, is enjoying the weather outside. Whether you’re studying on one of the patio chairs at Dana Porter or taking a nap on the grass, it is important to know how to handle any bug bites or bee stings that might occur.
Bug Bites and Bee Stings
It is rare that an insect bite will result in a severe reaction that requires immediate assistance. Most bug bites can be treated at home or with a quick trip to the pharmacy.
Common bug bites or stings occur from wasps, bees, mosquitoes, spiders, fleas, ticks or bedbugs.
What are the common symptoms of bug bites or bee stings?
Most bee stings and bug bites will result in the following symptoms at the site of the bite:
- Minor swelling
Sometimes a mild allergic reaction can occur to the bite area as it becomes painful and swollen, however, this should pass within a week.
Will I get Lyme disease if I get bitten by a tick?
According to Public Health Ontario, “Lyme disease is an infection transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. In Ontario, Lyme disease is only transmitted through the blacklegged tick.” Public Health Ontario produces a map (PDF) each year of risk areas for Lyme disease in Ontario. Public Health Ontario notes that “Early symptoms of Lyme disease may include; fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and an expanding red rash.”
The chances of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite depends on the type of tick and how long it was attached. Only blacklegged ticks transmit bacteria that causes Lyme disease. These ticks can only do so if they are attached for more than 24 hours, which is why it is important to remove the tick immediately.
What steps to take if I have been bitten?
- If there is a visible stinger left at the site, remove it using a flat edged object
- Wash the affected area with soap and water
- Apply a cold compress to the swollen area for 10 minutes at a time
- Apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching
- Try not to scratch the affected area as this will cause more irritation
- If you’re in pain or swollen take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
When do I seek medical care?
- Bug bite or bee sting is near your eye or your mouth
- Symptoms are not improving after a couple of days
- Affected site shows signs of infection such as oozing pus
When do I seek emergency care?
In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bug bite or bee sting can occur which requires emergency care. The following symptoms indicate the need for immediate assistance:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Swollen mouth or face
- Tightness in chest
How can I prevent bug bites and bee stings?
- Apply insect repellent to exposed skin or clothing
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas
- Wear shoes when outdoors
- Tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants
- Don’t leave food and drinks uncovered when outdoors
- Avoid very bright colours or strong smelling perfumes which attract bees
- When encountering bees or wasps remain calm and back away instead of waving arms around – they will sting if they feel threatened
You should always come in to Health Services and book an appointment to see a health care professional if you feel your symptoms are worsening or if something doesn’t feel right about your bug bite/sting. You can book an appointment by calling 519-888-4096.
Sun Protection Tips
With beautiful summer weather happening you’ll be tempted to spend more time outside. Whether you’re hiking, having a picnic, canoeing at Laurel Creek, or studying on the grass on campus, you’ll want to make sure you don’t get too much sun. Getting too much sun can lead to sunburn, dehydration or heat stroke. Here are five ways you can enjoy the summer sun more safely:
- Wear sunscreen. Apply a sunscreen at least 15 – 30 minutes before you go outside. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and one that says “broad-spectrum” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Reapply. If you’re outside for a long time, doing an activity which causes you to sweat, or swimming, make sure to reapply often. Even if your sunscreen is waterproof, you still need to reapply.
- Accessorize. Protect your head with a wide-brimmed hat and don’t forget a pair of sunglasses, preferably ones that have 100% UV absorption.
- Seek the shade. Especially during the most intense sun of the day (between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Look for shady spots under trees, awnings, tents, or umbrellas.
- Drink plenty of liquid. Make sure to keep yourself cool and hydrated with water to avoid dehydration or heat stroke.
Following these tips can help you have a safe and happy time in the great outdoors. So go on outside and enjoy the warm weather!
For more information, see: