Flu – everything you need to know, the ultimate survival guide
In December hospitals were under great strain with the Australian Flu and as the new year broke they were inundated with victims of the Japanese Flu. But what is the difference between the various strains of flu, how can it be prevented and how should we respond if we fall ill with it?
Flu is seasonal and each year a new strain will begin to spread.
Flu is a highly infectious disease and symptoms usually appear very quickly. While colds can make you feel miserable they are considerably less serious and usually start gradually with a blocked or runny nose and sore throat. Flu however, is likely to flatten you completely, causing fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness.
Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but it has the potential to be very serious, in some cases leading to hospitalisation, permanent disability and even fatality!
What causes flu?
Influenza viruses affecting your respiratory system cause flu, and unlike bacterial infections, viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. In some cases, however, antibiotics are prescribed if there are additional opportunist bacteria that cause complications and need treating.
How do you catch flu and can I avoid it?
Flu virus is spread liberally in tiny droplets of saliva released when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes.
These droplets are then inhaled in by other people or they are infected by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. The virus can survive on surfaces for many hours.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus ensure that you cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your face in a public environment such as a bus or train, use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus while out and wash your hands regularly.
Although, the best way to protect yourself against flu is by having a flu vaccination before flu season commences.
One of the ways to prevent getting the flu is the flu jab.
Each year teams of experts try and predict the most likely viruses to affect us and match them into the vaccine as closely as possible.
Flu is unpredictable and there is always a risk of a change in the virus. That said, during the last ten years the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains.
This flu season saw a quadruple vaccine being administered to those attending for vaccinations between September to November. When this ran out, Chemists offered the triple vaccine. These two vaccines cover Australian Flu but neither cover the Japanese Flu.
Only the child’s nasal flu vaccine includes cover for Japanese flu – and this is okay, as it is predominantly children that are affected by this strain.
Immunity takes a couple of weeks to build up, so it is important to get vaccinated as early as possible and before the beginning of flu season. While it is not a live vaccine and should not make you feel ill, some people have reported a low-grade fever and aching arm for a couple of days after the vaccination.
There is however currently a shortage of flu vaccines with many Pharmacists running extremely low.
Who should be vaccinated?
If someone has additional medical conditions, is pregnant, is the sole carer for someone dependent upon them, or a care worker – they should try and get vaccinated and should be entitled to a free jab. Flu is serious and will put you out of action if you get it.
Anyone can pay to be vaccinated and can just make an appointment with their Pharmacist.
However, you are entitled to a free flu vaccine if you are pregnant or have one of the following long-term conditions:
- a heart problem
- a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
- kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
- liver disease
- had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- a neurological condition, e.g. multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
- a problem with your spleen, e.g. sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
- are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above).
What to do if you suspect you have flu:
There is no need to visit your GP if you are suffering from flu as there is nothing they can do to help you fight it. However, if you develop complications or are seriously worried please phone the surgery and get additional medical advice.
The key advice to recover as quickly as possible is:
Rest and sleep
take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat aches and pains which will also lower your temperature.
Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydration (urine should be pale yellow or clear)
Pharmacists can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies that can help you to feel better.
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
It is strongly advised that you attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit https://firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.
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First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.