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Archived - Health Canada reminds Canadians of precautions during cold and flu season

Starting date:
December 4, 2007
Posting date:
December 4, 2007
Type of communication:
Information Update
Source of recall:
Health Canada
General Public
Identification number:

Cold and flu season in Canada runs from November until April. Health Canada would like to remind Canadians of the important safety precautions they should keep in mind to protect themselves and their families.

The flu

Influenza (or the flu) is a common respiratory illness that affects millions of Canadians each year. The flu can cause a range of problems from a few sick days, to hospitalization and even death. The seasonal flu vaccine is the most effective method of preventing influenza that Canadians have access to every year, in time for the flu season.

Certain groups should not be vaccinated. These include children under six months of age and people who have had an allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of the flu vaccine.

Regular hand washing is another way to help minimize your risk. By washing your hands often, you will reduce your chance of becoming infected after touching contaminated surfaces.

If you get the flu, you should increase the amount of fluids you drink (water, juice, soups) and get plenty of rest for seven to ten days. You may also wish to speak to your health care provider about medications to treat the flu. If you take them within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms, they may reduce the length of your illness by an average of one or two days. For more information on the flu, see the It's Your Health article on the Health Canada Web site and Fighting the flu on Healthy Canadians Web site.

Common cold

A cold is a minor infection of the upper respiratory tract that can be caused by several different viruses. Typically, these viruses are relatively harmless. Colds are caused by viruses different from those that cause the flu, and colds tend to be less severe than the flu. Cold symptoms usually appear one to three days after the virus enters your body and lasts for about a week, although some may last longer.

There is no way to completely prevent the occurrence of colds. However, avoiding close contact with those who have colds can reduce the chances of becoming infected. As with the flu virus, regular hand washing is also a good way to help minimize the risk.

Over the counter medications for cough and cold

There are more than 700 authorized non-prescription cough and cold products marketed in Canada. Health Canada is currently working to determine if the labelling of these products is sufficient to ensure that Canadians have all the information needed to make an informed decision on the safe use of these products.

Health Canada has issued a number of recommendations on the use of these products in children. We strongly advise Canadians to follow these recommendations including consulting a health care practitioner to determine if the product is safe and appropriate. It is also recommended that cough and cold products, including drugs and natural health products, should not be used in children under 2 years of age unless instructed to do so by a health care practitioner. For a complete list of Health Canada's recommendations, see the Public Advisory issued October 11, 2007.

For children of all ages, when combining more than one product, Canadians should be aware that many products contain the same medicinal ingredient(s) and combined use could lead to overdose. Canadians should talk to their healthcare practitioner or pharmacist if they have questions about the proper use of these products, dosing and administration information, or the medicinal ingredients in the products being used.

Topical Medications

There are also many topical products available on the Canadian market that are commonly used to treat cough and cold symptoms. Topical products are applied to a localized area of the body or to the surface of a body part.

For example, products containing camphor and/or eucalyptus oils (also referred to as aromatic oils) are commonly used as chest rubs and by steam inhalation to relieve congestion. These oils are also found in some creams and ointments intended to relieve sore muscles. Products containing these oils should be used according to the label directions to avoid accidental ingestion or absorption of excessive doses through the skin. For more information on the safe use of health products containing camphor and/or eucalyptus oils see the It's Your Health Article.

All medications and health products should be kept out of reach of children, in order to avoid accidental poisoning.

To report a suspected adverse reaction to any drug or health product, please contact the Canada Vigilance Program of Health Canada by one of the following methods:

Telephone: 1-866-234-2345
Facsimile: 1-866-678-6789

Canada Vigilance Program
Marketed Health Products Directorate
Ottawa, Ontario, AL 0701C
K1A 0K9


The Canada Vigilance adverse reaction reporting form, including a version that can be completed and submitted online, is located in the MedEffect area of the Health Canada Web site.

Media enquiries

Alastair Sinclair
Health Canada

Public enquiries

1-866 225-0709