Flu facts: Stay informed; stay well

Flu facts: Stay informed; stay well

The flu season comes around every year. By remembering how to avoid catching it, we can keep ourselves well. By recognising what it looks like and how best to treat it, we can help avoid it becoming severe.

Let’s remind ourselves what the flu looks like, how best to treat it, how we can prevent its spread and, last but not least, how we can minimise our risk of catching it.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

If you’re unfortunate enough to catch the flu, your symptoms may appear anywhere between one and four days of you becoming infected; two days on average (1). They might include (1)(2)(3):

  • a sudden fever
  • a cough, usually dry
  • a headache
  • aching muscles and joints
  • a sore throat
  • a runny nose
  • feeling tired and generally unwell.

 

Flu symptoms appear rapidly and normally last anything from a few days (1) up to around a week. Your cough, which can be severe (2), and tiredness may last a few weeks (1).

The flu can, in some cases, become more severe, even leading complications, such as pneumonia (1). It can also exacerbate long-term health conditions (1). Seek medical attention if your symptoms deteriorate (2).

We’re more at risk of developing severe complications than when we were younger (1). After all, our immune response may also be less effective than they once were, and we frequently have a chronic health condition that reduces our resistance to infection (1).

How do I treat the flu?

General flu treatments look to reduce your fever (1)(2) and relieve your other symptoms. To help you get better quicker (3):

  • rest and sleep
  • keep warm
  • take medication to lower your temperature
  • drink plenty of water.

 

Being in the high-risk group for complications with the flu, we should also seek medical advice (2). We may be prescribed antivirals to support our waning immunity (1).

How do I prevent the flu from spreading?

The flu can very easily be spread to other people (1). The virus spreads through the air via the droplets we produce when we cough and sneeze (2); anyone within a metre or so of us (2) is at risk if we don’t cover our mouth and nose (1). It can also be spread indirectly as the virus can live on our hands and hard surfaces for a whole day (3).

Generally, people are most likely to give the flu to others in the first five days of their symptoms appearing (3). With our immune systems weaker than they once were, we may be able to spread it for longer (1)

To reduce the risk of spreading flu (1)(2)(3):

  • stay at home until your fever has gone and you are feeling better
  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • cough or sneeze into tissues
  • dispose of used tissues quickly.

 

How do I avoid catching the flu?

There are also some simple steps you can take to help you avoid catching the flu (1)(2)(3):

  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Stay clear of crowds.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Get a flu shot.

 

Vaccination is the most effective way of us reducing our risk of catching the flu, as well as spreading it to others (3). The vaccine is most effective if you get it before the flu season starts (3).

While the flu shot may be less effective in preventing us from catching the flu than when we were younger, it will reduce its severity and the risk of complications if we do catch it (2).

Just like our birthdays, the flu season comes around every year. As every year passes, our immune systems get weaker, and we are less able to fight off the virus. What action will you take to avoid the flu this winter?


References
(1) https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/facts/factsheet
(2) https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal)
(3) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/how-flu-vaccine-works/

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