Influenza- should you be immunised this year?



What is influenza anyway?

Many people are unaware of what "the flu" (influenza) really is. So often I hear people saying "I'm so sick with the flu" and I ask them what symptoms they have. They respond with "Oh, my nose won't stop running, I can't stop sneezing, and my throat is sore", sometimes they may complain of a cough. This is not the flu! It is more likely to be a common cold or sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuous). There is absolutely no way the flu can be mistaken for a common cold. The flu knocks you completely off your feet. The flu is a distinct illness caused by a viral infection usually affecting the lungs; the influenza A or B virus can cause it.

Symptoms

A fever (37.8 degrees)
Chills
Muscular aches and pains (back, arms & legs)
Headache
Sore throat
Dry cough (non-productive cough) becoming a moist (productive cough later)
Weakness
Loss of appetite
Nausea (sometimes)
Burning eyes (sometimes)
A period of depression is sometimes common after the contracting the flu (and can last for a few weeks)

Transmission

It is easily caught in crowded areas, as is it spread from person to person from airborne droplets from sneezing and coughing. Therefore on public transport, crowded shopping centres, and in confined spaces it can be easily transmitted. Your family members are also at risk, if one member has contracted the flu, anyone can 'catch' the flu. For most people the flu is a moderate to severe illness, suffering many of the symptoms mentioned above.

The potential dangers of the flu virus

The dangers are the complications. Because the flu leaves the person with a weaken immune system, they are at risk of further infections. The most common is pneumonia; other complications occurring less frequently include swelling of the brain and inflammation of the heart muscle.

As you get older the body's ability to resist illness decreases, it leaves the individual at an even further risk of complications (even if the person is fit and healthy). Studies have shown that 90-95% of deaths related to the flu are over 60 years of age. The flu can also worsen a pre-existing condition the person may already have; this category includes:

Asthmatics
People with various heart conditions
Diabetics
Chronic Bronchitis
Kidney conditions
Children & adults receiving immune-suppressant therapies
Residents of nursing homes along with other chronic care facilities who are ill


Recovery

For people with severe symptoms, the infection normally last 2-3 days, but the actual time frame of the illness can last 7-10 days onwards for some people.

The best treatment

Once you have the flu there is not much that can be done, as antibiotics only work for bacterial infections and not for viruses. Although there is a medication that has recently been put on the market that helps reduce the severity of the flu, however it is quite expensive (you can ask you local GP about this if necessary).

Prevention - Have your doctor immunise you with the latest influenza vaccine. The best time for immunisation is autumn. In Australia the flu is usually most prevalent during July to November. The Vaccine protection takes about 14 days to occur, and gives between 6-12 months protection (CSL Vaccines, 2001). It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine, as only a portion of the disease (which is harmless) is injected into the body. Each year there is usually a different strain, so even if you contracted the flu last year does not mean you are protected from it this year. So if you feel you are at risk - vaccinate!

- Louise Ganey (RN)


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