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Flu: Just The Facts

Influenza, also known as the flu, occurs every year, usually in the winter.

It is a highly infectious viral illness with symptoms that develop quickly and last a couple of days. The most common symptoms are fever, chills, headache, joint and muscle pains, and extreme tiredness.

One way to protect against flu is through a flu vaccine. Vaccines contains small amount of the viruses that have been weakened. They stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies (substances produced by the body to fight disease) without actually infecting us. These antibodies provide “active immunity” so that when you do come into contact with the disease itself, your immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies they need to fight it.

Young people who have certain conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, etc. are “at risk” of catching flu and tend to suffer more as a result of flu and its associated complications and because of this they are offered the flu vaccination every year at their GP surgery. This is done in the autumn as flu is more common during the autumn and winter seasons, but you can catch flu at any time of the year.

The flu virus is continually changing and to match this, the flu vaccine is changed each year, which is why you need to get vaccinated every year against flu.

Some young people, including healthy ones, may remember having the flu vaccination in school as a nasal spray. In the future, potentially all children between the ages of two and 16 could be offered the flu vaccination to protect them against the flu using the nasal spray.

7 bits of information about flu

  1. What is flu?
    Flu is an illness that usually starts quite suddenly, about 1 to 3 days after a person is in contact with someone who has the infection.
  2. Is it infectious?
    Yup, it’s usually infectious from about 1 day before becoming unwell, to 3-5 days after the symptoms start
  3. How do you get infected?
     The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. These droplets typically spread about one metre and hang suspended in the air for a while before landing on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours. Anyone who breathes in the droplets or touches the surfaces can carry the virus by hand to the mouth or nose – gross gross gross!
  4. How do you feel when you have flu?
    In a word – rubbish! People who have the flu often feel very unwell, and develop a fever, headache, body aches and lose their appetite. They can have a runny nose, cough and chills and they feel cold and shivery even though their temperature is high. The severe illness may last for 2 or 3 days, then often the person will still be unwell, tired and lacking energy for many more days, sometimes more than a week
  5. It’s ever changing.
    The viruses causing flu often change, so that people who have had flu before may not be protected by their immune system, and can get flu again
  6. How common is flu?
    In most years there are outbreaks of flu in winter which can affect 5% to 10% of the population
  7. Recovery.
    Most people recover fully from the flu without the need for special treatment, but some need treatment for complications such as pneumonia, and a small percentage die (usually elderly people or those who already have health problems)

Cold vs Flu – which is it?

  1. Flu can last longer than a cold
  2. People feel much more unwell with flu than with a cold – with the flu, if you are in bed and if there is a fifty pound note on the windowsill you would feel too ill to get out of bed and get it, with a cold you would feel well enough to get the money!
  3. Flu is caused by different types of influenza viruses and colds are caused by many different viruses

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your public health nurse.

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