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HEALTH


By Dr. Eithne Brenner - The Brenner Clinic What is Flu?


Flu (influenza) is a contagious virus that affects the upper airways and respiratory tract-nose, throat, and larger air passages. The infection usually lasts a week, and most people recover without complications. In the very young, the elderly, and those with heart, lung or kidney problems, flu can pose a significant health risk. Vaccination is recommended in these groups and is effective, safe and cheap.


WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS


OF FLU? In adults, symptoms include a high temperature, sweats, muscle aches, dry cough, tiredness, sore throat, and sneezing. Headache and nausea may also occur. The symptoms tend to start abruptly, and are much worse than a common cold. In children, symptoms include a high


temperature, sore throat, sneezing, difficulty breathing, lethargy or poor feeding. Some young children may have a febrile convulsion - a seizure due to high fever.


Symptoms peak after 1-2 days, and then usually ease over several days. An irritating cough and tiredness may persist for another week or so.


HOW DOES THE FLU VIRUS PASS FROM PERSON TO


PERSON? The flu virus is highly contagious and passes easily from person to person through the air by droplets of secretions in coughing or sneezing. The virus enters the body through the nose or throat, and then takes 1-4 days to cause symptoms.


WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR


FLU? Your immune system will usually clear the flu virus. Treatment aims to ease the symptoms until your body clears the infection. • Paracetamol or ibuprofen will treat aches and pains and fever.


• Drinking plenty of fluids prevents dehydration.


• Rest also aids recovery. • Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and are only used in flu if there is evidence of a secondary bacterial infection, for example if the flu leads to a bacterial chest infection or pneumonia.


• Antiviral drugs (Oseltamivir/Tamiflu) are new drugs which can be very effective if prescribed within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms developing. These alter the way the virus multiplies and thereby reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms and may prevent complications.


IF I HAVE THE FLU, HOW CAN


I PREVENT PASSING IT ON? The flu is spread by droplet infection, so avoid coughing or sneezing near others, and kissing! Don’t share drinks, utensils or towels until the infection is cleared. Dispose of tissues carefully, and wash your hands regularly.


FLU EPIDEMICS Flu epidemics are uncommon. They


occur when 10-15% of the population is affected by a particular infection. GP’s around the country monitor ILI (influenza-like illness) levels in the community and these are assessed by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre who issue


appropriate advice to doctors on the use of vaccines and anti-viral medications.


WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THE


FLU VACCINE? Any person over 65 years should be vaccinated. Adults or any child over six months of age with the following conditions should be vaccinated: • Pregnant women (vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)


• Heart disease • Kidney/liver disease • Diabetes • Moderate or Severe Asthma or other lung disease


• Those with a weakened immune system- e.g. patients on chemotherapy, steroids, previous spleen removal or HIV


• Healthcare workers • Patients in residential/nursing homes • Carers • Those with morbid obesity (BMI over 40) • Workers with close contact with poultry, pigs or water fowl


WHAT DOES THE VACCINE


COST? For everyone over 65, the vaccine product is free, and your GP will charge a fee of approx €20 to administer the vaccine. The same applies for those with the above medical conditions. For those with the above conditions, who have a medical card or GP-visit card, there is no administration fee.


WHY IS A NEW FLU VACCINE


NEEDED EACH YEAR? Constant genetic changes in influenza


viruses mean that the vaccine composition must be adjusted annually to include the most recent circulating strains.


CAN THE FLU VACCINE CAUSE


FLU? The flu vaccine does not contain live flu


virus, so it cannot cause flu. However, some people will get mild vaccine side- effects which can include soreness at the site of the vaccine in the arm, or temporary headache/aches and pains. The chance of a serious allergic reaction -as with all vaccines - is extremely rare (about 1 in 100,000 vaccinations).


Further information is available from your GP, practice nurse, or public


health nurse, or the National Immunisation Website www.immunisation.ie


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