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What is Influenza?
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is an infectious illness caused by viruses. It is possible to catch flu on more than one occasion, as the viruses change and the body does not have natural resistance to the newer versions. However, this does not happen very often. Influenza may be caught all year round but like many other viruses it is mainly associated with winter.
The flu virus is transmitted via the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. These droplets may remain in the air momentarily, a sneeze on average covering around 1 metre, and then land on surfaces were they can survive for up to 24 hours.
Flu should not be confused with a common cold, it is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to begin suddenly, be more severe and last longer.
The key symptoms of flu include:
- sudden fever (temperature of 380C or higher)
- body ache
- blocked/runny nose
- dry cough, sore throat
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- nausea and vomiting
- children may also experience pain in the ears
Treating the Flu
The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen will help lower high temperatures and also relieve general aches and pains.
Normally the symptoms of flu will last less than a week, and people are advised to stay off work or school until they are feeling better. Antibiotics don’t work, and there is usually no need to see a G.P. If however symptoms appear to be getting worse or not have improved after a week this will be necessary. Further medication may be required to treat or prevent potential complications of flu; antiviral medication for example can stop the flu virus from multiplying in the body, not curing the problem, but relieving some of the symptoms.
Who is at risk?
Vaccination is the best method for protection against Influenza. Vaccinations are recommended after research predicts the best match for the circulating strains, and for those most at risk of suffering from severe illness. Those at risk include people:
- Aged 65 years or over.
- With a long-term medical condition; for example diabetes, heart disease, cancer or cystic fibrosis.
- With lowered immunity; including young children, pregnant women or those receiving chemotherapy.
- Who are frontline health or social care workers.
- Who are main carers for an older or immunocompromised person.
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You can help stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others by:
- washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water
- regularly cleaning surfaces such as your computer keyboard, telephone and door handles to get rid of germs
- using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible
- avoiding unnecessary contact with other people while you are infectious
- Staying off work or school until you are feeling better
- Getting your annual flu vaccine
The Flu vaccine
The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu, as well as spreading it to others; and is more effective to get the vaccine before the start of the flu season (December to March).
The vaccine in Gibraltar is currently available at the Primary Care Centre on weekdays between 2-4pm.