Why you could catch flu more than once

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Why you could catch flu more than once

Dr Tea Collins“Many people are not aware that the flu is much more serious than a common cold,” says Dr Téa E. Collins, Medical Advisor to the World Medical Association on global health issues and member of the Influenza Hub editorial board.

“If you’re an older person, in particular, the flu could affect you badly – but it can be prevented. We’re in the 21st century now, and we no longer have the flu pandemics that took so many lives in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet, people still get the flu because they don’t know how to prevent it.”

Practice the simple hygiene habits that will help you to protect yourself from the flu – particularly during the flu season.

Preventing is key

Before we look at some simple steps you can take to help prevent yourself from catching the flu, let’s explore why prevention is so important, especially when we’re not as young as we used to be. After all, the flu isn’t something we just catch once in our lifetime – or even once a year.

We need to take steps to protect ourselves every flu season, throughout the season, as Dr Collins explains: “We get the flu multiple times – not only every year but throughout the year. There are different strains of the virus, and we never know how each strain will mutate and what will be circulating each season.”

The flu changes constantly

Let’s take a closer look at what Dr Collins means when she says there are multiple strains of the flu and that these strains mutate

There are three types of flu viruses: types A, B, and C (1). Type A viruses are divided into two different subtypes (2) and then the A subtypes and B viruses are divided into different strains. Type A and B flu viruses cause outbreaks and epidemics in humans (2).

There’s a mix of different flu virus strains circulating amongst humans (3). These different strains can each spontaneously mutate, which means there’s a gradual change in the flu viruses circulating over the course of the flu season and from one season to the next (3).

These changes fool our immune system (4). Remember how we explained in an earlier post that our immune system remembers a flu virus that has previously attacked it and can respond immediately? When a mutated flu virus tries to infect us, our defence system doesn’t recognise it and so can’t respond with such haste.

You may be more at risk

So, we’ve seen how and why different strains of the flu virus exist at any one time, and that these different strains are continually changing. The severity of the flu differs between strains and depends not only on the virus itself but also on a host of other factors – including the infected person (3).

While severe flu and complications can potentially occur in anyone, hospitalisations are more common if you are of pensionable age (3). You have a greater risk of developing severe complications, such as pneumonia, since your immune response may also be less effective – especially if you have an underlying disease that reduces your resistance to infection.

Preventing the flu

Dr Collins reveals some simple steps you can take to help you avoid catching the different strains of the ever-changing flu virus: “We need to prevent the flu because treating the flu is practically impossible,” she explains. “Prevention includes common hygiene practices and vaccine schedules; simple things like hand washing, covering our mouths and cleaning the door knobs – and making sure you go and seek help if you have a fever that persists.”

If you are of pensionable, the flu could affect you badly. It’s much more than just a common cold. Practice the simple hygiene habits that will help you to protect yourself from the flu – particularly during the flu season.

(1) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs211/en/
(2) http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/communicable-diseases/influenza/data-and-statistics/virology-of-human-influenza
(3) https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/facts/factsheet
(4) https://wiki.ecdc.europa.eu/fem/w/wiki/how-pathogens-try-to-trick-our-defenses


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