Our last article gave an overview of the Flu and its difference from a cold. This one picks from it, seeking to help you understand the risk factors associated with the virus and how it can be avoided, treated and/or managed.
To remind us, Influenza ( the flu) is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It is highly contagious and is normally spread through coughs and sneezes of the infected person. Touching, shaking hands and very close proximity to an infected person puts one at risk of the contagions which are airborne too. Adults are usually highly contagious one to two days before the symptomatic stage and up to 7 days after the symptoms appear.
Some key facts about the flu you need to know.
There has been a misconception about the treatment of Flu, people in the past have bought antibiotics over the counter to treat flu, they continue doing it today. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat the flu!
Flu is a virus that affects large populations. 9 to 32 per cent of Kenyans will develop Flu.
Medical experts have a consensus that the best way to prevent Flu is through vaccination. They recommend that one gets vaccinated annually. However, it is important to note that the flu vaccine is not suitable for some populations, especially populations that have allergic responses to chicken eggs.
Basically, anyone can be infected by the flu virus that causes mild to severe symptoms which range from fever, body aches, runny nose, coughing and sore throat to general body fatigue. The symptoms cool down within a week and the patient fully recovers without complications except for those with a weaker immune system.
Flu has caused death in some cases and up to 85 per cent of these deaths have occurred during the flu season and in people whose immune system is weak. These people include those who are 65 years and above, children below 5 years, people living with chronic illnesses that deteriorate the immune system.
Prevention and Management
As a rule of thumb, here are five ways you can keep safe
1. Avoid large crowds (stay at home)
It is not very easy to avoid large crowds because our day to day lives and activities revolve around people and relationships with them. However, if you are able to limit direct contact with people especially during the flu season, you can greatly reduce the risk of enduring the nasty flu. This can actually include wearing a face mask in public places like schools, workplaces, hospitals and nursing homes, especially for people with a weaker immune system.
2. Regular hand-washing
A hygienic practice, not just for preventing flu infection, but also reducing the risk of many other disease-causing germs.
The Flu virus can survive on a hard surface for 24 hours, sometimes more. A habit of regularly washing your hands especially before eating or preparing food, after using the washrooms will keep you in a safe zone. A hand sanitizing gel is usually handy when it is not possible to wash hands. Throughout the day it is inevitable that you won’t shake hands, touch door knobs, touch your nose, mouth or eyes, touch counters and switches. Sometimes most of this things happen subconsciously and this is how the flu spreads apart from its airborne nature.
The sanitizer and a small pack of tissues can be of a great help to replace handwashing, when unable to wash hands. Once you get to wash your hands, do it generously. Use warm soapy water and thoroughly rub your hands. Use a clean towel to dry your hands
3. Do activities that boost your immune system.
Earlier in the post, we said the risk of experiencing flu complications is higher for certain people. For example, adults over 65, babies or young children, pregnant women, individuals with heart or cardiovascular disease, those with chest problems, such as asthma or bronchitis, individuals with kidney disease, people with diabetes, people taking steroids, individuals undergoing treatment for cancer, those with longstanding diseases that reduce immune system function.
These groups are vulnerable because a weak immune system is less prepared to fight off infections like a strong immune system does. A strong immune system also helps reduce the severity of symptoms in case of sickness and complications.
One can build their immunity by having healthy lifestyle habits including having enough sleep, minimum of seven and a half to nine hours a night. A regular physical training regime also puts your heart in shape to build a stronger immunity. You can begin by maintaining a regular physical activity routine, for instance, at least 30 minutes, three days a week.
Healthy eating is also part of building immunity. Sugar, junk and fats have no immune value in the human system. Instead, replace them with a nutrient-rich diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables full of essential vitamins and antioxidants that boost immunity thus promoting good health.
For people with a weak immunity as a result of the reasons listed above, engage a doctors opinion on an additional multivitamin to supplement your diet and provide immune system support.
4. Get the flu shot
It is argued that the best and most efficient way to avoid the flu and prevent spreading it is by getting an annual flu vaccination. The vaccine is available as an inject-able shot that is made from an assortment of strains that are common during the flu season. Millions of such vaccines are produced every year and distributed. The vaccine, once you get the shot triggers the body to produce antibodies against the specific strains of the particular strains of the virus hence providing protection and evading an infection. Anyone above six months old can take the vaccine and it is especially important for people with a weak immune system.
Exceptions include Individuals with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination in the past, individuals who developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome within 6 weeks of receiving a flu vaccine and children under 6 months old.
5. See a doctor
Any development of flu-like symptoms should be reported to a doctor immediately. Symptoms to watch for include fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headache, tiredness, and runny nose. The flu has no cure, like all other viruses. However, if you report the exposure of the virus to a doctor early enough, you might be able to receive a prescription antiviral that would really help to cut down on the symptoms
Treating the Flu
As said earlier, the Flu cannot be treated using antibiotics except if the flu has opened up the system to bacterial infections. Use only antivirals that have been prescribed by the doctor.
Pain relievers can be used to relieve pain like the headaches and body pains but it is important to do this under the strict advice of a medical practitioner.
It is critical that all tissue is single use and that it should be immediately disposed in a trash can. Dispose all tissue products well and do not keep tissues on the desk or counter tops or in your pocket and handbag for future use.
Most of the prescription medication for Flu and Colds should not be kept for re-use after its expiry date. At most these medicines have a timeline of up to two months. After that they can be dangerous because they are basically chemicals, which undergo decomposition once opened.
Known Cold and Flu home remedies like Honey, Lemon and hot water because they help soothe the blocked / affected passageways. However they must be used within limit, it is advisable to check with a doctor the quantities to mix especially for children to ensure the concentration levels do not become toxic.
Get a flu vaccination today and develop your daily lifestyle habits to strengthen your immune system.