The ‘flu, or influenza virus can cause infections all year round, but in the UK, it is most common in the winter. There are many strains, some of which are worse than others, such as swine ‘flu (H1N1 strain) which tends to have a more rapid onset, high fevers and stomach upset and has caused fatalities, often in previously fit adults. ‘Flu affects 10% of the population each year, but rises to 25-30% during an epidemic. In contrast, adults have approx 2 to 3 colds per year and children 5 to 6.
Do I Have ‘Flu or a Cold?
|Features of ‘Flu
||Features of a Cold
- Symptoms appear suddenly
- Leaves you exhausted and unable to move, affecting the whole body
- Can cause complications, including pneumonia, sometimes fatal
- Lasts for one week, then you get better
- Symptoms appear gradually
- Affects only nose, throat, sinuses and upper chest
- Still able to function
- Recover fully in a week
Vaccination Against the ‘Flu
Anyone can get the ‘flu and, the more a person is in close contact with people who have the virus, the more likely they are to get it. Certain at risk groups are advised to have a ‘flu vaccination. They include:
- Everyone over the age of 65.
- People of any age with lung diseases, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes or lowered immunity.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Carers of those at risk.
The UK is fortunate to have a safe and effective vaccination against the ‘flu, which is provided free of charge by the NHS. Those most at risk are advised to have a vaccination every year. This is because the ‘flu virus changes slightly every year. Despite popular belief, the ‘flu vaccination can not give you ‘flu. It’s true that some people experience symptoms of a heavy cold at the same time or just after they’ve had the ‘flu jab – this is simply a coincidence and the symptoms are caused by one of the many common cold viruses in the autumn and winter. It is still possible to suffer heavy colds after a vaccination, as the ‘flu jab only protects people from the ‘flu virus, not other viruses.
The ‘flu vaccination is available from October each year. The UK’s 2011-12 vaccination contains protection against H1N1 strain (swine ‘flu) as well as other strains expected to occur this year. Anyone who thinks they need it should talk to their doctor or nurse.
How to Treat the ‘Flu
Antibiotics are of no use in treating ‘flu. Anti-viral medication is available from the GP for at risk groups, but it needs to be taken early on in the disease to stop the virus multiplying, and may only reduce the symptoms rather than treating the infection.
The best ways to treat the symptoms of flu are:
- Get plenty of rest. The body uses a lot of energy fighting infections, so resting for the first couple of days gets it off to a good start.
- Keep warm.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and try hot water with lemon, ginger and honey to relieve symptoms such as sore throat.
- Take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.
Always contact your doctor if you’re not getting better after a few days, if you’re unduly short of breath or if you’re coughing up blood or large amounts of yellow or green phlegm.
How to Keep Healthy and Avoid Getting the ‘Flu
- Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet.
- Take regular exercise.
- Get enough rest and relaxation.
- Do not smoke.
- Take regular vitamins and bump up your vitamin C.
- Wash your hands often and keep a bottle of antibacterial handclean around.
- Avoid people who are coughing and sneezing, especially if they’re not covering their mouth and nose.
- Use and bin your tissues.