Sarah is a pharmacist living in Queensland, Australia. She enjoys writing articles with a health and medical focus.
What's so bad about the flu?
“The flu”, also known as influenza, is a virus that causes symptoms similar to those of the common cold, although much more severe. The flu can be potentially life threatening, particularly for certain people who are vulnerable to complications of the disease. For most people, getting the flu means staying home from work or school, during which time the ability to participate in home duties and other activities will be greatly diminished.
Learning how to avoid getting the flu, and beginning to take preventative measures, will minimise the virus’s potential impact on your lifestyle.
How do you catch the flu?
The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which is spread via droplets from sneezing, talking coughing. You can also catch the flu if you touch a surface that has been contaminated with droplets containing the flu, and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose. Being in close contact with people who are sick with the flu will increase your chances of getting the flu, as it is easier for droplets to be transferred. People who have the flu may be contagious from the day before any symptoms appear up to 7 days after they first appear unwell. Children may be contagious for slightly longer.
The flu vaccine
Since you may not know which people are sick with the flu, the best way to avoid getting the flu is to have an annual influenza vaccination. It is important to note this will not stop you from getting a cold, or even several colds since colds are caused by different types of viruses, not the influenza virus. An annual vaccination is required, as the influenza virus changes slightly each year, so every year a new vaccine is developed based on the viruses (or “strains” or influenza) experts think are most likely to cause the infection in the approaching flu season. It is best to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, rather than during the middle of flu season, as it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to stimulate your immune system to develop resistance to the influenza virus. During this time you will still be at risk of catching the flu. This may lead some people to believe that the flu vaccine causes the flu, which is not the case. Similarly if you happen to catch a strain of influenza virus which is not in the annual vaccine, this may lead you to think that the vaccination doesn’t work, when in fact it was never designed to work on that particular strain of influenza. If you get the annual flu vaccination and then still get the flu, this may lessen your symptoms and reduce complications.
How to avoid the flu - some expert tips
Influenza - virus just waiting for you
Other ways to avoid getting the flu
Practising good hygiene is essential to help reduce your risk of getting the flu. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help with flu prevention:
- Good hand hygiene is essential, as the germs are readily harboured on the surfaces of your hands. Wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating and preparing food. Use soap and water, or use an alcohol based hand sanitiser.
- Use a knife and fork/spoon/chopsticks or any tool other than your hands to eat your food, to avoid the potential for your hands to contaminate your food when you eat.
- Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
- Clean surfaces that may have become contaminated with droplets.
- Regularly clean your workstation and communal areas. Keyboards, computer mice, telephones etc are all potential sources of contamination
- Avoid coming into contact with people you know are sick. Try to avoid crowds (eg. sporting events, converts, shopping centres) during peak influenza season.
- Look after your health – get enough sleep, eat healthily and get regular exercise.
- Cover your mouth when your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then dispose of used tissues. If you don’t have a tissue handy, sneeze or cough into your elbow nook, this way you are less likely to contaminate your hands and spread your germs.
- If you do get sick, stay at home to avoid infecting others.
Getting the flu can make you feel awful, and in the worst case can be potentially fatal. The illness should not be underestimated, and while you may not be able to avoid the flu every year, there is so much you can do to try and prevent it!
How to wash your hands
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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