I’ve had the flu, you’ve probably had the flu and I’m actually feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time. Can you relate? Fret not because help is at hand thanks to my good friend, GP and author Juliet McGrattan.
Over to Juliet for her top tips on dealing with the flu:
We are well and truly in flu season. According to Public Health England statistics, UK flu levels remain high with more people visiting their GP with flu-like illnesses, and being admitted to hospital than in previous weeks, making it the most significant flu season for seven years with respect to hospital admissions.
The term ‘flu’ is widely used, often incorrectly, so what actually is the flu, how do you know if you’ve got it and what should you do if you’re affected?
What is the flu?
Flu is the abbreviation of influenza. Influenza is a virus. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and once they get inside a cell in our body, they replicate until the cell bursts open, shedding their load of thousands and thousands of viruses. The two major types of flu are Influenza A and Influenza B and there are different strains of each. Viruses are constantly changing so they can survive and carry on spreading. Currently in the UK, data shows that both Influenza A and B strains are circulating.
How do I know if I have flu?
I once heard the saying that, ‘If you thought you had flu, then you’ve had a cold. If you thought you were going to die, then you’ve had the flu’. It’s not a very medical description but it accurately explains how truly awful having the flu makes you feel. It floors you. You generally can’t get out of bed. Going to work is impossible. The symptoms can be similar to a heavy cold in that you may have a blocked nose and a sore throat, but flu symptoms tend to come on very quickly, be more severe and affect more of your body.
High temperatures (over 38C) are common and people often complain of really aching muscles, extreme tiredness, headaches and sometimes vomiting too. It’s generally really, really horrid and time and again, I’ve had patients say that they’ve never felt as ill in their lives.
What should you do if you have the flu?
Look after yourself
Thankfully, most people with flu don’t need admitting to hospital and can be treated at home. The key is to rest as much as you can. Don’t try to soldier on, let your body heal by giving in and sleeping. Keep yourself well hydrated (especially if you are vomiting) – drink plenty of fluids; you might need to have sips every few minutes if you can’t stomach much in one go.
Whatever fluid you feel like is fine – water, juice, tea etc but avoid alcohol (you won’t want it anyway if you have flu!) Don’t worry if you don’t feel like eating, this is normal with flu, just make sure you keep drinking. If you feel achey, your head or throat hurts or if a high temperature is making you feel unwell then use paracetamol or ibuprofen to help. You can speak to your pharmacist if you are unsure which is best for you.
Realistically, it’s going to take you a good week to start feeling human again and longer before you feel back to normal so you’ll have to be patient. When the stuffing has well and truly been knocked out of you, it takes time to get back on your feet, don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
It’s worth being aware that your mood might drop with the flu too. Lots of people find themselves feeling down and tearful. Theories for this blame the flu virus itself and others blame the immune reaction in the body. Whatever the cause, it’s reassuring to know that it’s normal and it will pass as you feel stronger.
Look after others
Flu is contagious, from when you start to feel unwell to five days into it you are at your most infectious. Where possible, stay at home and avoid mixing with others – not really doable when you have children that’s for sure. Be aware that the virus can survive on hard surfaces for several hours so hand washing is vital, especially after you’ve coughed and sneezed. It’s much better to catch a cough or sneeze in a tissue and put it straight in the bin rather than using your hand to cover your mouth – wash your hands either way. Get out the anti-bac spray and wipe down surfaces and door handles too to minimise spread.
If you haven’t had a flu vaccine then consider getting one next year (or this year if you’re so far unscathed). The vaccine makers try to work out what the most likely strains of circulating influenza will be and make sure that the vaccine covers them. This year, most adults will have had the flu jab which is a trivalent vaccine, this means it protects against three types of flu – two As and one B known as the Australian flu.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover another type of B known as the Japanese flu, which is circulating in some parts of the country. This means there might be people who have had a flu jab but aren’t protected against this B strain. Japanese flu is thankfully less severe than Australian flu, although it’s said to be more contagious. Reassuringly, the children’s nasal vaccine is a quadrivalent vaccine which means it covers all four types – two As and two Bs so hopefully the little people will be more protected.
There are a few situations when you should not simply stay at home and treat yourself. If you are over 65, pregnant, have a long term health condition, have a weak immune system or are not getting better after seven days then seek medical advice. If at any point you are worried about your baby or child, then speak to a health professional.