Fighting Flu

The flu season is well underway in South Africa so ZippHealth would like to enlighten you on some important facts about flu and what steps to take if you have contract the virus.

What is flu and how do you get it?

Influenza or flu as it is commonly known is an acute viral respiratory infection, transmitted by the influenza virus. This virus has three main types A, B and C. The flu virus spreads mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are close by. You can also catch flu by touching a surface or an object that has flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. So make sure you keep washing your hands and avoid contact with people that have the flu.

How long is a person with influenza contagious?

People with flu maybe able to pass on the flu to someone else before they know that they are sick, as well as while they are sick. A person with flu may be contagious 1 day before symptoms appear and for 3-7 days after the onset of symptoms. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, maybe be able to infect others for an even longer time.

How soon will I get sick if I am exposed to the flu?

The time from when a person is exposed to flu virus to when symptoms begin is about 1 to 4 days, with an average of about 2 days.

What are the signs and symptoms of flu?

  • Sudden onset of fever

  • Acute upper respiratory symptoms: dry cough, sore throat

  • General symptoms: malaise, headache, fatigue, muscle pain and body aches , cold shivers and hot sweats

  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults.

What are the possible complications?

While most people will not suffer serious complications, there is always a concern in persons with underlying conditions or certain risk factors.

1. Complications within the chest are usually characterised by: shortness of breath at rest or during usually tolerated activity, chest pain, low blood pressure, clinical or X-Ray features of pneumonia and myocarditis.

2. Complications involving other organs include ear infections, sinus infections, encephalitis, severe dehydration, renal failure and multiple organ failure.

3. Worsening of underlying conditions such as: asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension, renal or liver insufficiency, Congestive Cardiac Failure (CCF) and other cardiovascular diseases.

Who is at risk of developing complications?

  • Pregnant women - including the 2 week period after delivery

  • Children under the age of 2

  • Elderly people over the age of 65

  • People with existing chronic diseases and those that are immunosuppressed

  • People with obesity related health problems

  • People under the age of 18 receiving chronic aspirin therapy

Who should be vaccinated?

The flu vaccine is developed each year according to the prediction of strains that will be in circulation for that season and should therefore be administered every year as the strains evolve continuously. For the South Africa flu season, the optimal time for vaccination is around March/April each year. However, getting vaccinated even later can be protective, as long as flu viruses are still circulating.

Any persons wishing to minimise the risk of contracting flu should be vaccinated. But it is especially important that those at risk of complications from the flu virus be vaccinated.

How safe is the vaccine?

The vaccine cannot result in flu infection as there is no live virus contained within the vaccine. Some people experience mild fever and local pain at the injection site. Overall the vaccine has an excellent safety record.

Can the vaccine still be given once the flu season has started?

Persons who fall into the ‘risk groups’ should still be vaccinated even if they did not receive the vaccine before the flu season started. The season typically continues until August/September each year. Since the vaccine takes 10-14 days to be effective, that person will not be protected if they are infected with flu in the interim.

How do you treat flu?

Most of the treatment is generic and involves symptom relief unless the individual is very sick or is at risk of developing complications. In this case they must visit their doctor.

For uncomplicated cases at low risk then the prevention of further spread and the following measures are advised:

  • Bed rest

  • Drink plenty of water and other clear fluids

  • Symptomatic treatment for cough, fever, nasal congestion, etc

  • Increase your vitamin C intake

To book an appointment for the flu vaccination call ZippHealth on 011792 1616 or visit our website

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