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The Flu season in upon us: know what to do

June 14th

Bobbie Hutton, Immunisation Facilitator and Emergency Response Planner at Nelson Bays Primary Health, spoke to a group of community leaders at the May monthly Community Whanau meeting about how to tell the flu from a cold and how to manage health and hygeine over the flu season.

The article on this page is a quick summary of Bobbie's message, and we recommend that you also read and print off a more complete 4-page document (but easy to understand), which you can read by clicking here.

People often mistakenly say they have the flu when they actually have a common cold. Influenza (the "flu") is more serious than the common cold, and these are some of the main differences:

Symptoms

Cold

Flu

Fever (or raised temperature)

Rare in adults and older children, but can be as high as 102°F / 39.9°C in infants and small children

A major symptom of the flu - it's usually 102°-104°F / 38.9°-40°C and lasts for 3 to 4 days

Headache

Rare

Appears suddenly and can be severe

Muscle aches

Mild

Usual, and often severe

Tiredness and weakness

Mild

Often extreme, and can last two or more weeks

Extreme exhaustion

Never

Appears suddenly and can be severe

Runny nose

Often

Sometimes

Sneezing

Often

Sometimes

Sore throat

Mild

Usual, and often severe

Mild hacking cough

Mild

Usual, and can become severe

How influenza is transmitted

The flu virus is "caught" via the mouth (or nose or eyes), either by breathing in or by contact with a surface such as your hand - which itself has been in contact with an infected object. Sneezed out, it travels only about two metres maximum in the air, but if it reaches an object or surface such as a hand, door handle or furniture, it may survive for a few days, specially on smooth surfaces.

The main symptoms last about 5 days, though coughing may continue for 2 - 3 weeks. Some very young children, people with some long-term medical conditions, pregnant women, and older people, can get very sick.

Prevention Strategies

The main prevention strategy is vaccination. Each year a new vaccine is made available developed to stimulate antibodies that build protection in most people against the current variants of the flu virus. The vaccine is in effect a tiny amount of the flu that triggers antibodies into action to defend against the "intruder" and then be ready to handle a much larger attack when a flu virus invades and a full-blown infection threatens. Some groups, particularly elderly and very young, can be vaccinated for free, and for most it's a quick and painless procedure.

70% of people that receive an influenza vaccination will not get influenza, while the other 30% might get mild symptoms but reduce the risk of complications and duration of illness.

Note that Tamiflu is not a vaccine - it works in a totally different way by weakening the effects of the flu once it is caught. Taking Tamiflu when you don't have the flu is pretty much a waste of time, but if taken early after the flu has been caught it will significantly decrease the time of infection and the degree of the symptoms.

Tamiflu is an antiviral, subscription-only drug that is now free in many cases. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against influenza by keeping viruses from reproducing in your body. They make your illness milder and make you feel better, faster. They may also help stop serious influenza complications.

Protection Strategies

To protect yourself and others around you, there are some simple procedures now recommended. First, keep your hands clean, washing them regularly with soap and drying thoroughly. Snneze into a tissue, but if you sneeze into your hand, wash them soon before you start touching things that others may then touch. It is recommended now that if you have no ready tissues you sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand, as this reduces the possibility of your passing it on.

Similarly, common objects and surfaces in the environment around you should be cleaned often. And try to observe what is often called "social distancing" - keeping more than about a metre from others when conversing. Certainly, you should avoid being near people who have the flu.

Care of people with Influenza

If you or one close to you has the flu, there is one absolutely clear message - STAY HOME. There is no benefit to anyone if you soldier on, when in the process you are infecting others.

Seek medical advice early, as you may be eligible for Tamiflu, which as we said will ease the symptoms considerably. Take plenty of rest and fluids, and use a pain remedy like Panadol as prescribed on the package, which should assist in easing the symptoms. Sneeze into tissues and trash them afterward, so others cannot come into contact with them.




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