Health Focus

Look around you: who’s coughing and looking miserable? Are your co-workers and friends staying home sick and under the weather? Flu activity is currently high and is expected to increase in coming weeks, as is the case every autumn. So here’s what you need to know:

What is influenza, or ‘flu’?

The flu is a virus that a person can catch when they touch something with the virus and then any part of their face, or when a person breathes in droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. After coming into contact with the virus, a person can develop symptoms within the next week. Influenza A usually occurs between winter and spring. Influenza B can occur any time of the year. H1N1, or swine flu, is another type of flu.

Symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Achy body
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory symptoms (develop after the first symptoms and may last after the first week)
  • Fatigue (which may also last longer than a week with the cough).

How can you prevent catching influenza, or spreading it if you have it?

  • Get a flu vaccine (the vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body 2 weeks after vaccination can prevent illness, doctor’s visits and hospitalisation).
  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze (or your inner elbow or sleeve if you don’t have one).
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with other people
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands
  • Disinfect surfaces that are touched by others (door handles, phones, shared desks, etc.)
  • Wash your hands

Myths about influenza:

  • Myth:  “You can get the flu from cold weather.” A virus, not the weather or temperature, causes influenza.
  • Myth:  “Flu shot vaccine can give you the flu.” You cannot get the flu from the flu shot vaccine. It contains a dead virus, not a live one.
  • Myth:  “You don’t need the flu vaccine if you are young and healthy.” It is true that a healthy person will probably recover more easily from the flu, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be unpleasant. The vaccine can lower your chances of getting it.
  • Myth:  “You can only get the flu once in a flu season.” There are several types of influenza, so you can actually catch a different strain in the same season. Vaccination can help protect against them.
  • Myth:  “Antibiotics can fight flu.” Influenza is a viral infection and cannot be treated with antibiotics—antibiotics only fight bacterial infection. Antiviral medications (such as Tamiflu) can fight flu if needed.
  • Myth:  “Flu is only dangerous for older people.” Actually, flu is very dangerous for young children–even healthy ones. It can affect anyone, but young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems are at an elevated risk. Children under age two are the most likely to be hospitalised by flu. Parents and caretakers should be vaccinated as well.