The flu is a well-known winter illness, but how much do we really know about it and should we be taking the flu more seriously?
As the temperatures drop and winter approaches, we are all more prone to picking up colds with the change of season, but the flu is more than just a common cold. Seasonal influenza (more commonly known as ‘the flu’) is an infectious virus spread by coughing and sneezing. It strikes mostly during the winter months and can make us feel very unwell even if we are usually healthy, but the flu jab is readily available to help protect us from it.
Symptoms of flu
The symptoms of flu can be mistaken for a common cold. However, they are usually more intense. If you have the flu, you’ll feel worse than just having a cold. Common symptoms include:
- Aching muscles and joints
- High temperature (fever) of 38C or above
- Feeling tired, weak and lethargic
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Dry cough
- Runny nose
- Difficulty sleeping
- Diarrhoea or stomach pain
- Nausea or sickness
Treating the flu
Most healthy people recover from the flu and start to see an improvement after around a week of self-care. If you have the flu, it is important to:
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- Drink lots of water to keep you hydrated
- Take paracetamol and ibuprofen to reduce high fevers and relieve aches and pains
- Stay at home and keep yourself warm
Despite taking good care of yourself, some people are at greater risk of complications if they catch the flu. The illness can be much more severe if you are:
- Aged 65 and above
- A young child under 5 years old
- A pregnant woman
- Diagnosed with an underlying health condition
- Somebody with a weakened immune system
Preventing the flu
The flu virus is highly contagious and easily spread from one person to another by coughing, sneezing and germs on hands. As there is a risk of complications for more vulnerable people, the NHS offers free flu vaccinations every year to eligible adults and children, as well as those who work with them too. This includes Care Workers who work on the front line with vulnerable adults and children daily.
This winter, the NHS is offering the free flu jab to a record 25 million people to protect our population as best we can from the virus and ease winter pressure on our urgent care services.
By having your yearly flu jab, you are vaccinating yourself against the anticipated annual strain of flu while also protecting those you care for and preventing the spread of this virus. The flu jab is readily available from your GP surgery or local pharmacy and it is the best way of protecting yourself and your service users from catching influenza. The NHS recommends that the most effective time to get your flu jab is before the start of the flu season which typically strikes between December and March. It takes around 10 to 14 days for your body to build up enough protective antibodies to fight the flu virus effectively, so it is best to get vaccinated early.
As an employer of frontline health and social care workers, at ND Care & Support we have a responsibility to ensure that our staff know where to access the free flu vaccine. Most of our local doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies offer the free flu jab to Care Workers and we strongly advise you to book yours as soon as possible. Even if you were vaccinated against the flu last year, it is important to ensure that you are vaccinated annually as the flu strains can change over time. Therefore, new vaccinations are produced every year based on World Health Organisation data about which strains of the virus are most likely to dominate each year.
In addition to getting the free flu vaccine, it is imperative that all Care Workers practice good hand hygiene. You should wash your hands often using warm water and soap, drying them thoroughly afterwards. You can also prevent the spread of the flu virus by coughing or sneezing into a tissue to catch and trap any germs, before throwing it into the bin and washing your hands.
It is easy to reduce the spread of the flu virus and we all need to play our part to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Contact your local GP surgery today to get your free flu vaccination!