The flu is possibly the most incorrectly self-diagnosed illness in Ireland. You’ve probably heard dozens of people with a case of the sniffles declare that they have the flu, but they are mistaken.
The flu is a very debilitating virus that affects the respiratory system, often leaving its victims bedridden with exhaustion. It is particularly dangerous to certain people in at-risk groups and each year in Ireland the number of people who die from complications of the flu is anywhere between eighty to one hundred and twenty people.
While most healthy people will recover from a bout of the flu with rest, plenty of fluids and time, it is important to remember that others in your community may be more vulnerable to the effects of the flu. If you think you have the flu, call your healthcare provider for advice and stay at home to reduce your chances of spreading the virus.
If you would like more information on what causes the flu and what you can do to try to prevent catching the flu, continue reading below.
What is the flu?
The flu is an illness caused when the flu-virus enters the body via the respiratory tract and attaches itself to the body’s cells. The virus then begins to multiply, and your body’s immune system reacts, attempting to remove it from the body. This can leave you with achy, sore muscles and extreme fatigue, as your body diverts all its energy to ridding itself of the flu virus.
The flu virus is expelled into the air in tiny droplets when infected people cough or sneeze, which can then be inhaled by other people--highlighting why it is so important for people suffering from the flu to isolate themselves as much as possible to contain the spread of the virus.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu can come on very quickly and may involve:
- High temperature (38°C or above) often accompanied by chills
- A cough that can be either dry or chesty
- A headache
- Extreme fatigue
- Aching muscles
- A sore throat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Runny or blocked nose
- Loss of appetite
The list of symptoms which accompany the flu may vary from person to person. Always consult your GP if you have been suffering from the flu for more than a week with no signs of improvement, if you are pregnant, if you have been diagnosed with an ongoing condition (especially diseases of the respiratory system), or if your child has the flu.
Warning symptoms which require immediate medical attention include:
- Rapidly increasing difficulty breathing
- Sharp chest pains that make it difficult to breathe
- A severe earache
- Uncharacteristic changes in behaviour such as becoming confused or extremely drowsy
What can I do to prevent getting the flu?
The best way to prevent getting the flu is to get the seasonal flu vaccine each year. The vaccine, which changes every year in line with prevalent flu strains, is usually released in September. The Irish flu-season runs from October to April, therefore it is advised that you get the vaccine as early as possible, as it can take up to two weeks to take effect.
The flu vaccine is available from your local CarePlus Pharmacist and if you have a medical card and are in an at-risk group, you can get your vaccine free of charge.
Other preventative measures you can take to reduce your chances of catching the flu include:
- Practice good hand-washing technique—especially during the flu season
- Avoid direct contact with people who have the flu, where possible
- If you are a smoker, quit smoking. It may not help prevent you catching the flu, but dealing with the virus will be easier if you do catch it and you will be at a lesser risk of complications as a non-smoker
What groups are most at risk of catching the flu?
It is strongly recommended that you get the flu vaccine if you:
- are 65 years of age and over
- are pregnant
- have a long-term health condition
- work in healthcare
- are a carer
- live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- in regular contact with pigs, poultry or waterfowl
People in at risk groups, who also hold a valid medical card, can get their flu vaccination for free in any CarePlus Pharmacy.
Did you know that when you get vaccinated, you are protecting yourself and your community?
Viruses and germs, especially the flu virus, can travel very quickly through communities and can sometimes be fatal to people who are very ill. Certain people, such as immunocompromised patients, are unable to get the flu vaccine and rely on other members of their community to help protect them during flu season.
When enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, that disease’s germs can’t travel as easily from person to person — and the entire community is less likely to get the disease. This is called Community Immunity and it is why it is important that you get the flu vaccine each season.
Contact your local CarePlus Pharmacy for more information.