It is flu season across the world and everyone wants to know how to avoid getting sick and what to do when infection strikes!
Dr. Anjum Ishaque, an experienced Family Medicine Specialist (GP) gives us some useful facts.
- Flu is caused by the influenza virus which spreads very easily within communities via droplet infection (by sneezing or coughing). It can cause disease in healthy adults but the elderly and young children are especially vulnerable to its effects. In most instances flu is a mild disease lasting for about a week. However some people may develop serious respiratory symptoms and complications requiring hospitalisation. Flu Epidemics have lead to many deaths in the past and despite modern advances Influenza continues to be a cause of death in the 21st Century.
- The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get vaccinated annually. This should ideally be in the autumn (before the infection is circulating in your community). Flu viruses change constantly and every year the strain and virulence of the flu virus varies. Hence a new vaccine is manufactured each year to protect you from the viruses that are likely to be causing disease in that particular year. Also the immunity that a person develops after vaccination declines with time. It is therefore essential that everyone above the age of six month have the flu vaccine yearly.
- Certain people are at higher risk of getting serious complications from the flu. These include pregnant women, people over 65, young children under five and people with certain chronic medical conditions: (e.g. Diabetes, Bronchitis, Asthma, Cancer and Heart and Kidney Disease). It is therefore essential that patients with these conditions as well as their carers (that means all you mums out there looking after kids & elderly parents), get vaccinated annually.
- The flu vaccine is safe and cannot (and does not) cause the Flu. The commonest side effects are pain, swelling and redness at the site of the injection. These are usually minor and tend to pass in 24-48 hours. The flu jab is not recommended for people with severe, life threatening allergies to any component of the vaccine (usually eggs) or a history of a severe reaction to the vaccine previously. Vaccination can be done during a mild illness but is normally deferred if there is a fever.
- Symptoms for the flu include a sudden development of a high fever, chills, muscle pains, headache, cough and fatigue. Associated Vomiting and Diarrhoea is more common in children. (The common cold tends to develop more gradually, is milder and sneezing and coughing are more common). In most cases of flu, treatment involves resting, keeping hydrated and taking paracetamol. However pregnant women, children under five, elderly patients and those suffering from chronic conditions are advised to seek medical advice early; with a view to starting antiviral medication (e.g. Tamiflu). These medications are most effective when taken within the first 2 days of the infection and help the body to fight the virus and to decrease the risk of complications. They do cause side effects and it is therefore important to consult your doctor to discuss this further.
Taking antibiotics will neither cure nor decrease the duration of the flu symptoms and are only indicated if a bacterial infection develops secondarily.