It’s that time of year again…..have you had your Flu Jab?
Influenza or flu as it is better known, is a highly contagious common illness caused by a virus which can be caught at any time of the year but is especially common in the winter months, which is why it is often called the ‘seasonal flu’. It is different to the common cold as it is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer. The virus affects millions of people each year and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable. Different strains of the virus appear each year throughout the world and thus, a person can catch the flu many times in their lifetime as your body won’t have the natural resistance to the new versions. This year has seen an outbreak of the H3N2 or ‘Aussie flu’ which has been cited as the worst flu outbreak on record for Australia with the number of people needing hospital treatment double that of last year. A professor at Public Health England has warned that it is ‘inevitable’ the flu strain will hit the UK and urges those eligible to get the new updated vaccine which includes protection against the H3N2 strain.
How do you catch the flu?
The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth and thus, it is easily spread via coughing and sneezing. These droplets can spread to about 1 metre and can hang around in the air for some time before landing on surfaces where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours. Anyone who breathes in the droplets or touches surfaces that the droplets have landed on and then touches their mouth or nose can catch the virus. Everyday surfaces at home and in public places can be contaminated with the virus, including food, handrails, door handles, telephone handsets and computer keyboards, thus it is really important to regularly wash your hands.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of flu usually develop within one to three days of becoming infected. Typical symptoms of the flu include;
-high fever of 38C (100.4F) or above
-general aches and pains
-a dry, chesty cough
‘Head cold’ symptoms such as blocked or runny nose, sneezing and sore-throat can also be caused by the flu virus but these tend to be less severe than those listed above. The exhaustion associated with the flu can be so extreme that a person may spend days in bed until they feel better.
What is the best way to treat the flu?
If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see a doctor. The best remedy is to stay at home, keep warm and avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water. Taking over the counter medications such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can help to relieve aches and pains and lower temperatures. A person with the flu is most infectious from the day the symptoms start and for a further three to seven days. Children and individuals with weakened immune systems may remain infectious for longer. It is advisable to stay off work until you are feeling better and for the majority of people this will take about a week.
How do you reduce the risk of catching the flu?
You can reduce your risk of catching the flu or spreading it to others with good hygiene measures;
-regularly washing your hands with soap and warm water
-frequent wiping of surfaces such as keyboards, door and telephone handles
-using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and disposing of these in a bin as quickly as possible
-avoid unnecessary contact with other while you are infectious which may involve staying off school or work until you are feeling better
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Anyone can get the flu vaccine if they so wish but it is especially important for those in the ‘at risk groups’ (anyone over age 65years, pregnant women, children and adults with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, healthcare workers or those in close contact with ‘at risk individuals) to receive an annual flu vaccine. The best time to have the vaccine is in the Autumn, from the beginning of October onwards. One should get the vaccine every year to stay protected, as the viruses that cause the flu change every year.
There are two vaccine options available:
–‘Fluenz Tetra’ nasal spray (£40) This is licensed for use in children and adolescents from 24 months. This generally involves only one dose but in occasional circumstances a second dose is required after an interval of 4 weeks (children aged 2 to 9 at risk of flu due to an underlying medical condition, who have not previously received a flu vaccine should receive two doses). The vaccine contains the four main virus strains (USA (Michigan), Hong Kong, Thailand (Phuket) and Australian (Brisbane)) that are considered to be causing the current flu infections throughout the world. These are weakened forms of the viruses which will provide sufficient levels to mount an immune response to fight off the virus if they come into contact with it, but too little of the virus to actually cause an infection.
-Inactivated Influenza injectable vaccine(£30) This is licensed for use in patients from age 6months onwards. It is a one dose schedule (unless given to a child who has not previously had a flu vaccine and who are deemed to be at risk of flu due to an underlying medical condition- these individuals may require two dose as discussed above). This contains the same virus strains as the nasal spray.
We are pleased to be able to offer both the above vaccines at Coyne Medical and are more than happy to answer any of your queries relating to the flu.
Dr. Vanessa Ni Churrain