As Flu season approaches, some things everyone should know!
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection. It may cause severe illness and life-threatening complications for some. These complications can include pneumonia.
It is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes. It is estimated that flu contributes to over 3,000 deaths in Australia each year.
The “swine flu” virus – also known as influenza A (H1N1) – emerged in 2009. It was responsible for the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years. It is now a regular human flu virus that goes around each winter, worldwide. The current seasonal influenza vaccine has been designed to include protection against the swine flu virus.
Do I have the flu?
The most common symptoms of the flu are:
- A sudden appearance of a high fever (38 °C or more)
- A dry cough
- Body aches (particularly affecting the head, lower back and legs)
- A feeling of extreme weakness and tiredness (and not wanting to get out of bed).
Other symptoms may include:
- Aching behind the eyes
- No feeling of hunger
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffed nose
Having the flu is more likely if you have been in contact with someone who already has it. You may have had some other type of exposure such as overseas travel to areas where flu outbreaks are occurring.
Whether you have the flu or another kind of virus can only be confirmed by a doctor. He may perform a nose or throat swab in order to verify a diagnosis. The treatment is similar for any ‘flu-like’ illness. A diagnosis is useful in helping health officials track disease patterns and frequency. It may be necessary where complications have developed.
What to expect if you have the flu
Symptoms of the flu hit very fast and can linger for several weeks. A bout of the flu will often follow the same pattern:
Days 1–3: Sudden appearance of fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness. You may also experience a dry cough, sore throat and sometimes a stuffy nose.
Day 4: Fever and muscle aches decrease. Hoarse, dry or sore throat, cough and possible mild chest discomfort become more noticeable. You may feel tired or flat with little or no energy.
Day 8: Symptoms decrease. Cough and tiredness may last one to two weeks or more.
What flu complications are most common?
In some cases of the flu, severe illness and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis can develop. These can result in hospitalisation and in extreme cases, death. The flu may also result in some existing medical conditions becoming worse.
Some people are at higher risk of severe complications associated with the flu. They include:
- pregnant women
- people aged over 65
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- all children younger than five years of age
- anyone with a chronic medical conditions
What medications should I take for the flu?
The flu is a viral infection so antibiotics won’t help at all and should not be taken. They really have no positive affects at all.
Antiviral medications, if started in the first two days after your symptoms start, can shorten the length of your illness. These must be prescribed by a doctor.
Decongestants and simple pain relievers can help you feel better while your body’s immune system fights off the infection.
Follow these tips for buying over-the-counter medication for the flu:
Buy a remedy that treats just one symptom. This will ensure that you are not taking in substances that you do not need, or that may trigger some kind of a reaction.
Read the label and find out: − whether the active ingredient treats your symptoms − any possible side effects of the medication − any possible interactions the medication may have with any other medications you are taking. Be sure to include over-the-counter, prescription, and alternative medicines (for example, herbal medicines) − if the medication is safe for you to take with any other health conditions you have
If you are unsure if a medication is suitable for you to take, or if you have any other questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They can suggest a medication that is appropriate and safe for you to take.
How can I avoid the flu?
Annual immunisation against the flu is strongly recommended for all people from six months of age. Many people in the above groups are eligible for free flu vaccination each year. This is covered under the National Immunisation Program and the Victorian government-funded vaccine program for children aged six months to less than five years.
The vaccine is not 100 percent effective but it does provide a high level of protection and can reduce symptoms in those still getting sick.
Anyone in these at-risk groups with flu-like symptoms should see their doctor as soon as possible. They should ask for guidance and consider the advice from their doctor.