FLU AND THE COMMON COLD – BE PREPARED FOR WINTER INVADERS
So we have arrived in October, holidays now over, children back to school and shortly your surgery will be offering a cheery seasonal flu jab. At the pharmacy show at the beginning of this week there was a bewildering array of new cold and flu remedies and I am sure we will be very grateful for them fairly soon now! Some people in higher risk groups like the elderly and those with conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart conditions are offered jabs routinely and if you are offered a flu jab, have one. Surely it is worth doing your best to avoid the misery that a true dose of the flu can bring?
So, how can we tell what is flu and what is a cold? Both colds and the flu are infections that exhibit similar symptoms, such as coughing and a sore throat. However, whereas a cold is a minor infection of the nose and throat, the flu is a viral infection - more severe, and with symptoms that can include a sudden high fever and severe aches and pains. I once heard it said that the true test of whether or not you have flu is to imagine a £50 note in the middle of your bedroom floor. If you could not be bothered to get out of bed to pick it up, - then you have the flu!
Flu symptoms like a raised temperature, chest discomfort, headaches, aches and pains, exhaustion and a lingering tiredness that can last for 2-3 weeks, as well as a dry severe cough are common. Although most of these symptoms are present with a cold the severity of the tiredness and other symptoms are usually much less, with any cough being mostly the chesty type.
If you are infected with either flu or a cold it is important to act within two days of the start of symptoms to limit the effect.
Learning the facts about flu is the first step toward protecting yourself. The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory infection and it spreads easily. It is most common in the autumn and winter, and is caused mainly by viruses called “type A” and “type B.” These gain entry to the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. If a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, and does not use a handkerchief, the virus becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity. Children are often the first to get the flu, which they then carry home from school.
The flu will normally strike 1 to 3 days after exposure to the virus. In all ages a temperature is one indicator of the flu. However, a raised temperature alone is not enough for a flu diagnosis. Common flu symptoms have been identified for three different age groups:
Adults and children over 5 years - Children under 5 years and elderly individuals. To recognise flu in adults and in children over 5 years look out for: temperature and a hot and cold feeling with sweating, a cough, muscle and joint pain, headache, fatigue, weakness and a sore throat. If these symptoms develop you should see your doctor immediately. Get a diagnosis within 48 hours of the onset of the symptoms and, if appropriate, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication, which attacks the influenza virus and stops it from spreading inside the body. In children under 5 years call the doctor if a child has fever vomiting, diarrhoea, nasal inflammation, and sore throat. Flu in the 50+ populations often presents with fever fatigue and weakness, confusion and nasal obstruction. It is very important that you rest. This will help you get better and make you less likely to spread the flu virus. Flu is contagious for 3 or 4 days after symptoms appear and if you fall ill, you should drink plenty of fluids, to avoid dehydration.
Hot liquids may relieve the feeling of congestion. Taking a pain reliever, should lessen aches and fever. Over the counter medications, while not treating the virus that causes flu – may temporarily relieve the symptoms. Of course, never give aspirin to a child under 12 who has the flu, or any other fever-causing illness, due to the risk of serious adverse effects. And remember, antibiotics are only useful for treating bacterial infections and cannot cure flu that is a viral infection.
Flu can be a very serious illness in the elderly, those already ill and in the very young. As with anything else it is important for us to do our best to help ourselves. Eating a healthy diet will help. If you do get infected, however, staying in bed rather than spreading your germs to friends and colleagues is the by far the best idea.
I know that there is a lot of pressure to turn up at work whatever state we are in but it really is not a good idea to spread germs that may have a very serious effect on a more medically susceptible person. So have a good winter and above all – keep well!
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