How to Prevent the Winter Flu
Catching the winter flu can leave you drained, and exhausted, or if you get complications can leave you in hospital with pneumonia or other serious side effects. The old phrase, ‘prevention is the best cure’ is best undertaken when autumn hits the UK. But there are 3 key ways to prevent and reduce the risk of contracting the Flu Virus this winter.
1. Get a flu vaccinehttps://www.initial.co.uk/blog/winter-flu/
In the US, the CDC recommends everyone over 6 months to have a flu vaccine by the end of October. It has adopted this practice since 2010 when its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended universal flu vaccination. However, it does give a priority list of people who should have the vaccine.
In the UK, the NHS recommends that people at high risk of complications or those coming in contact with them have the vaccine between September and November, including:
- over 65s;
- pregnant women;
- people in care homes;
- people with certain long-term medical conditions;
- health and social care workers;
- young children over 6 months have a nasal spray flu vaccine.
Vaccination for healthcare workers
WHO Europe has launched a campaign for 2016 to increase the number of healthcare workers who have a flu jab. Vaccination uptake among countries in Europe ranges from 2.5% to 99%, and more than half of countries report that less than one in three healthcare workers are vaccinated. In addition, not all countries even record this data, so it makes it difficult to get a full picture.
Healthcare workers are in a particularly sensitive position as they can transmit the flu to vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly and people who are already ill in the hospital. A flu infection can be life-threatening for these people, especially those with compromised immune systems.
2. Handwashing and good hygiene
Washing your hands with soap is one of the most effective ways of minimising the risk of spreading illnesses such as the flu virus.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or if they are not available, an alcohol-based hand gel.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, using a thick tissue or your arm — NOT your hands which will then contaminate everything you touch.
- Dispose of used tissues.
- Stay away from other people as much as possible while ill and for another 24 hours after the fever has gone.
- Don’t share items such as: towels, toys, cutlery, cups, plates and kitchen utensils.
Poor hand hygiene is one of the biggest causes of the spread of illness in offices and schools. A recent study that Initial has carried out with 5,000 participants in 5 countries show that one in four people don’t wash their hands even after using the bathroom!
3. Antiviral medicine
The UK NHS recommends that only vulnerable people take antiviral medicines when there is a flu outbreak or when they have recently been in contact with someone with flu-like symptoms to prevent infection.
How can I treat the winter flu?
Treatment means something that is given when someone has got the flu virus already — a vaccine would be futile at this point as the purpose of a vaccine is to build up immunity before catching it, making it of no use if you’re already infected with the disease.
1. Basic care
Most people need no medical treatment and will recover within a week. The UK NHS recommends that otherwise healthy people:
- keep warm;
- drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration;
2. Reduce the symptoms
If you feel unwell and have a fever you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower temperature and relieve aches.
3. Antiviral medicine
Antiviral medicines have been recommended for groups of people at risk of complications to reduce the length of illness and relieve some symptoms, but they do not cure the flu.
Antibiotics have no effect on the flu or other viral infections as they only work on bacteria!
Taking antibiotics when not needed and for the wrong disease increases the risk of bacterial populations developing resistance — such as MRSA, which causes problems in hospitals around the world. This reduces the effective antibiotics available for people whose lives depend on them.
So don’t take them when you have a cold unless a doctor prescribes them for bacterial infections that you have at the same time.
Keep your hands clean!
In case you didn’t get the message earlier, one of the most important measures you can take to protect yourself from the flu is to keep your hands clean!
You can spread the flu virus to others by not washing your hands and you can catch the flu virus from others by not washing your hands. Therefore, don’t sneeze into your hands — the best way of sneezing is to turn your chin into your shoulder to prevent your hands from getting contaminated with the virus.
So wash your hands regularly. Remember, use soap, wash for 20-25 seconds, then rinse and dry them properly, and apply hand sanitiser as back-up.