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Prepare yourself for flu season

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Reducing the risk: It is recommended that everyone six months and older gets a flu vaccine each season, and this is particularly important for those at high risk of serious complications from influenza, such as pregnant women and those with excess weight. However, the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective, so take care to reduce the spread of infection (Photograph by Tony Dejak via AP/File)

Every year, as early as the beginning of October, the flu season begins. Flu, or influenza, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system, including nose, throat and lungs.

At the onset, the flu may feel like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. However, colds usually develop slowly and the flu tends to strike suddenly. Also, the flu feels much worse than the cold.

Common signs and symptoms of the flu include high fever, often higher than 100ºF.

Muscle aches may occur, particularly in the back, arms and legs. One could also develop chills and sweats, a headache, a dry and persistent cough, low energy, weakness, and a stuffy nose and sore throat.

For most people, influenza will go away after it runs its course. Sometimes, though, flu and its complications can be deadly. Factors that could increase your risk of developing influenza or its complications include:

• Age: seasonal flu tends to affect younger children and older adults.

• Living situation: people who live in facilities, such as nursing homes, are more likely to develop influenza.

• Weakened immune system: cancer therapy, immune suppressants used in organ transplantation, steroids and HIV/Aids can weaken the immune system. This could make it easier to catch influenza and could also increase the risk of complications.

• Chronic diseases: chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems may increase your risk of complications from flu.

• Pregnancy: pregnant women are more likely to have influenza complications, especially in the second and third trimesters.

• Excess weight: people with a body mass index of 40 or more have an increased risk of flu complications.

Usually, it is enough to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids to treat the flu.

Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. If taken soon after symptoms begin, these drugs may shorten the illness by about a day and help to prevent complications.

If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, visit your doctor right away. If you do get the flu, the following advice may help to ease your symptoms:

• Drink plenty of fluids: choose water, tea and warm soups to prevent dehydration.

• Rest: get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.

• Consider pain relievers: an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), could lessen the symptoms of influenza. Avoid giving aspirin to children or teenagers because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.

The United States Centres for Disease Control recommend that everyone six months of age and older gets a flu vaccine every season.

Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. A flu vaccine has to be administered every year to be effective, since the virus changes from year to year. The vaccine is available as an injection or as a nasal spray.

The influenza vaccine is not 100 per cent effective, therefore it is important to take precautions to reduce the spread of infection:

• Wash your hands: thorough and frequent hand-washing is an effective way to prevent many common infections. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers work well if soap and water are not available.

• Contain your coughs and sneezes: cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner bend of your elbow.

• Avoid crowds: flu spreads easily wherever people get together. Childcare centres, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and buses are examples of this. Stay away from crowds during the flu season to reduce your chances of infection. If you get sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks to lessen your chance of spreading the infection.

By following a few easy steps, we can all stay healthy and prevent the people around us from getting sick. Let us get through the flu season safely so we can enjoy the holiday season afterwards.

• Mike Serebrennik is a physician by training and now a full-time entrepreneur, investor and writer. He is also a director of product development and sourcing at Lighthouse Medical Supplies, Ltd, a local company dedicated to helping patients and healthcare providers lower the cost and increase the quality of care.

Mike Serebrennik