Flu Protection
The Flu Protection Bundle starts with the influenza vaccine. UHN’s Infectious Diseases Physician Dr. Susy Hota elaborates on what else we need to do to protect ourselves this season. (Photo: UHN)

So you got your influenza vaccine. Are you now sufficiently protected from developing any flu-like illness for the season? Our experts would say: not quite yet.

"There are over 200 different viruses that circulate at the same time as influenza that can cause very similar symptoms, and are transmitted the same way," explains Dr. Susy Hota, Infectious Diseases Physician for UHN's Department of Infection Prevention and Control.

"We don't have vaccines for these other viruses yet. The principle of prevention is going with what you have, and right now we have the flu shot, which works along with a bundle of other things, to protect us from respiratory illness."

Dr. Hota discusses the Flu Protection Bundle as UHN's annual flu campaign wraps up its second week.

Protect yourself

"In order to protect yourself from respiratory viruses, start with cleaning your hands frequently and cleaning surfaces at work and at home often," says Dr. Hota.

"Also important is what we call 'respiratory etiquette': sneeze or cough into a tissue or the nook of your arm, rather than your hands - which is often our instinct. This will prevent the spread of germs through the things we touch."

Dr. Hota specifically addresses the concern of contagion in public transit. "They are very densely-populated areas with poor circulation of air, and lots of surfaces that we hold on to and touch," she explains.

"One of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves in that environment is to not touch our face, eyes or nose in particular before we have a chance to clean our hands. This can definitely get you infected."

Also added to this list of protecting oneself are eating well, sleeping well and exercising.

"When you're tired, you're less aware of what you're doing and may expose yourself. Exercising is also important because you're more susceptible to picking something up when you're feeling run down," Dr. Hota says.

Protect your patients and colleagues if you are sick

Describing this as "critically important," Dr. Hota emphasizes that employees must not come to work in clinical areas if they're sick.

"If you're feeling like you're coming down with a cold or flu, you should not be interacting with patients. If your role is so critical that you can't find coverage and absolutely have to work, then closely follow UHN's Respir​atory Viruses policy.

"The policy provides guidance about how to reduce the risk of infecting others including wearing a procedure mask, cleaning your hands frequently and standing about two meters away from patients. A mask is a barrier that prevents the transfer of those large respiratory droplets that might come out if you cough, sneeze or talk. Cleaning your hands when you're sick is important because viruses can be shed and you may have accidentally touched it on your own body and given it to other people."

On getting sick after receiving the influenza vaccine

"The vaccine we administer at UHN is not a live vaccine so it's actually incapable of casing an infection." explains Dr. Hota.

"The whole principle of a vaccine is that it shows the body pieces of the virus so that the body prepares an immune response. Our immune systems have memories so if you do actually get exposed to a live influenza virus later, those cells are ready to fight it off and prevent illness."

So for those who have fallen ill shortly after getting vaccinated, Dr. Hota explains that the body had likely already caught and incubated the virus, and the vaccine was received in the short window between incubation and symptoms.

"It takes one to five days on average to show signs of an illness, and up to two weeks for your body to mount a protective immune response. So if you started showing symptoms shortly after getting your vaccine, you were probably exposed before the vaccine and remained unaware until your symptoms hit."

On that note...

UHN's Flu Campaign is in its second week. If you haven't received your flu shot yet, please click the links above for UHN's flu cart schedule.

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We’ve partnered with UNICEF Canada again this year for a shot-for-shot initiative. Every flu shot received by a UHN staff member, physician, volunteer, student or contract worker means one measles, tetanus or polio vaccine is donated to a child in need.


Want to qualify to win one of five $200 Cadillac Fairview gift cards being distributed at UHN? Take a photo with our #IFightTheFlu4 sign - located at every flu cart – and submit it through one of the following options:

​​Using Twitter: Tweet your photo with our sign, tell us who you are fighting the flu for, tag us at @UHN_News, and use our campaign hashtag, #IFightTheFlu4.


​​​Using email: Email social@uhn.ca​, attach your photo with our sign and tell us who you are fighting the flu for.

​​To those who have already sent in their photos, thank you for participating and good luck with the contest! ​

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