It’s that time of year again, kids are gone back to school, the days are becoming colder, the evenings shorter and we’ve the winter season of illnesses ahead. Whether it’s the (slightly suspicious) man-flu or the extremely more serious swine and bird flu’s seen in recent years, nobody wants to contract the flu, whatever strains are in circulation. So what exactly is flu and can we do anything to avoid it?
Flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that affects all age groups. Flu symptoms can range in severity from mild/moderate to severe and even fatal. They can include sudden fever, chills, cough, headache, tiredness, aching muscles and joint pain, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhoea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. For most, it leads to 3-4 days miserable in bed and up to a further week recovering. Unfortunately some more at-risk patients can develop bacterial chest infection complications leading to pneumonia that can occasionally be fatal. Between 200 to 500 people, mainly elderly, die from the flu and flu-related illnesses in Ireland each year.
How can we avoid it or reduce the spread of it?
- Get ourselves vaccinated every year in our local pharmacy or GP surgery (keep reading for more on this).
- Wash our hands vigorously for 15 seconds with soap and warm water or alcohol based hand cleaners.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze ideally using a disposable tissue.
- Avoid close contact especially in crowded public places or wear a mask!
- Get regular exercise. Research has shown that those who exercise 4 to 5 times per week are less likely to contract the flu.
The flu virus changes and mutates rapidly and so, a new version of the flu vaccine is offered in Ireland every year. Each version normally protects against the three strains of flu predicted to be most prevalent in the forthcoming winter season. The HSE and Healthcare professionals urge people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated each year. This includes:
- people aged 65 and older
- patients with long-term medical conditions a such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, liver, kidney or neurological disease
- people with a body mass index (BMI) over 40
- those with an impaired immune system due to disease or medication including all cancer patients
- pregnant women at any stage in pregnancy
- those residing in nursing homes and other long stay institutions
- health care workers and carers
- people with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs.
The vaccine works by stimulating our immune system to produce antibodies to the flu virus. If exposed to the flu, these antibodies attack the virus. Because it takes time for our immune system to produce these antibodies, it is generally two weeks before the vaccine starts to work. The vaccine cannot cause the flu as it contains killed or inactivated viruses. The most common side effects of the vaccine are mild and can include soreness, redness or swelling where the injection was given. Headache, fever, aches and tiredness may occur.
The vaccine is free to all those in the at-risk groups. The consultation by the pharmacist or doctor is free for those with a medical card or GP visit card. Pharmacists and doctors charge a consultation fee to those without a medical or GP visit card.
Many LloydsPharmacies up and down the country from Donegal to Cork offer the flu vaccination to anyone over the age of 18 wishing to avail of it. Please phone or call in to your local LloydsPharmacy for any information on the flu vaccine or to make an appointment in a participating store to be vaccinated by one of our expert LloydsPharmacy Pharmacists.