• 03 SEP 15
    • 0
    Grab them Hankies Cold & Flu Season Has Arrived

    Grab them Hankies Cold & Flu Season Has Arrived


    What is flu?

    Influenza is a highly contagious virus infection affecting the respiratory system. There is the more usual Seasonal Flu against which a vaccine is now available and the Novel H1N1 or Swine Flu against which a vaccine will be available



    What are the symptoms?

    Symptoms begin after an incubation period of one to four days and include:

    • A high temperature >38 degrees Celsius
    • Sudden Onset
    • Headache
    • Cough or Respiratory Symptoms
    • Muscular aches and pains
    • Weakness
    • Gastric symptoms (More common with H1N1)


    Symptoms often continue for about a week unless there are complications, in which case new symptoms may commence in the second week.


    How is it spread?

    Flu viruses are transmitted by coughing and sneezing.  Droplets expelled from the mouth and nose can circulate in the atmosphere and reach the respiratory passages of other people.  Transmission may also occur through skin contact, particularly through shaking hands as the viruses are even transmitted to the hands when covering the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.  Since the virus can live for a short period on the skin, frequent washing of the hands is an important preventative measure.

    What viruses are responsible?

    There are three main types of influenza virus, called A, B, and C, although it is usually the type A virus that causes the worst epidemics.  Type C is mild to the extent that it is indistinguishable from a common cold.  Type A flu is usually more debilitating than type B. The H1N1 is a Type A as are most seasonal Flu’s against which there is a vaccine.

    What are the common complications?

    Secondary infection with bacterial organisms such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus can often cause middle ear infections and pneumonia.  In vulnerable people death from haemorrhage within the lungs or septicaemia may usually occur.

    Can you avoid it?

    Living the life of a hermit would protect you, although being out of social contact for any length of time would reduce immunity to very low levels.  In practice, keeping clear of people who are coughing and sneezing, and washing hands thoroughly can help. Use of alcohol hand rubs is also very valuable. Where available though immunisation offers the best chance.


    For typical symptoms, the influenza sufferer should rest in bed in a warm well-ventilated room.  Painkillers such as Paracetamol and Aspirin (not for children under 12) can relieve aches and pains and reduce fever.  Plenty of fluids prevent dehydration and steam inhalations can have a soothing effect on the lungs.  Anyone in the ‘at risk’ categories should contact their doctor as soon as symptoms develop also anyone else who develops complication should do likewise.  Anti viral drugs  e.g Tamiflu are effective if given in the first 48 hour but are usually reserved for severe cases or those in risk groups


    Immunisation against influenza is effective and safe.  The World Health Organisation recommends the vaccine strains by predicting those viruses most likely to cause outbreaks in any given year.  UK studies show the vaccine reduces complications, cuts hospital admissions by up to 60% and mortality by about 40%, compared with matched controls.

    The vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies against the virus.  This means that when the body is exposed to the live influenza virus, it is able to defend itself.  The antibodies neutralise the attacking virus.  You cannot catch influenza from Influvac as it only contains pieces of the virus and not the whole live virus.

    Your body takes 10-21 days to produce antibodies after vaccination. The incubation period for influenza is a few days so if you are exposed to influenza immediately before and after the vaccination you could still develop the illness.  The vaccine will not protect you against the common cold, even though some of the symptoms are the similar to influenza.  Influenza viruses change all of the time, so different vaccines are made every year.  To stay protected against influenza you need to be re-vaccinated every year before the winter season.

    Will the vaccine protect me from the Swine Flu?

    No. The seasonal flu vaccine will only protect against the strains included in the vaccine itself. However there is a risk of getting two strains of flu together which could be more serious and protection from seasonal flu could in those circumstance be very valuable.


    Should healthy people get vaccinated?

    In previous years we recommended the vaccine for risk groups e.g. elderly, asthmatics, diabetics. This year there is a far greater case for health people getting the seasonal vaccine, (and pandemic vaccine when available). It remains though a personal choice.


    How many injections are required?

    For the seasonal flu only one vaccine is required. For the pandemic flu 2 will be needed as most of us have little or no natural immunity. For, and on behalf of Employment Health Advisers.

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