What is influenza?
Influenza is an acute viral infection that is quite distinct from the common cold. It can be severe and debilitating particularly in the young, the very old and those with chronic medical conditions. The group of viruses includes the now infamous swine flu that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009. The virus had an even more of a catastrophic effect in 1918 killing more people than The Great War itself. It estimated that somewhere between 20-40 million lives perished in that pandemic.
Electron microscopy image of the influenza virus- Courtesy WHO
A makeshift hospital for influenza patients
How is it spread?
Influenza is infectious and can be spread from person-to-person by coughing and sneezing, which can create droplets. Touching objects such as children’s toys can also transmit infection very easily. In fact institutions such as nurseries and schools have essentially become ‘super spreaders’ because of the compact environment of children’s classrooms and the prolonged contact. Schoolchildren can therefore have a significant impact on the spread of influenza in the population and are now the subject of universal vaccination (see later)
What are the symptoms?
Influenza heralds itself with an abrupt onset of fever and extreme body ache. Other common symptoms are a runny nose, cough, sore throat and headache. Those with pre-existing medical conditions can become extremely ill and may require hospitalisation.
What should I do if I think I have the flu?
Most people have a self-limiting illness that the not require any treatment. You need to ensure that you drink plenty of fluids and simple treatments such as paracetamol and ibuprofen should relieve your symptoms. You will usually get better within a few days. However, you should seek medical advice if you belong to the following risk groups…
Chronic respiratory disease – such as asthma
Chronic cardiac disease – such as angina
Chronic liver disease – such as chronic hepatitis
Chronic renal disease
Chronic neurological condition
Or if you have a poor immune system for example if you have been taking high- dose steroids
If you have any of the above conditions or live with someone who has then you should contact your doctor who may then consider treating you with an anti-viral drug such as oseltamavir (Tamiflu)
How can I prevent flu in the first place?
The current national policy is to vaccinate all individuals at risk (see above) and although some age groups were offered vaccinations this year, it is being offered to all children in the next flu season. The idea is to stop flu spreading through the population by vaccinating these super-spreaders. Unfortunately, only 30-40% of those offered took up the vaccinations this year, leaving most people still very vulnerable.
If you need the vaccine please contact your GP or alternatively contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org phone 02476 016519
Published 27th March 2014