As we move into autumn, the weather becomes colder and we will be substituting our evenings outdoors for evenings by the fire. Unfortunately, this means the onset of our flu season is not far away, and there will be a significant increase in the number of people catching colds or other viruses.
While the term “flu” is often used excessively, sometimes to describe what is only a common cold and more often to describe the seasonal flu virus, it is also used when referring to the dreaded “Man Flu”. I have worked in Cork City as a full time GP for the last 12 years and we've had the seasonal flu epidemic every year. Now in all that time, I have never once diagnosed a case of Man Flu… I suspect, however, that I have suffered from Man Flu on occasion, and certainly my wife has told me on more than one occasion that I have the Man Flu! While researchers say that Man Flu may be a very real thing, for the moment the men of Ireland won’t be getting the sympathy they are due.
However, on a serious note, flu season is most definitely here and the HSE is urging people - especially those in the “at risk” category - to get the flu vaccine.
Vaccination is strongly recommended for some ‘at risk’ groups, which include the following:
– Those aged 65 and over
– Those with a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart or lung disease
– Those whose immune system is impaired due to disease or treatment
– Those with a body mass index (BMI) over 40
– Pregnant women (can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
– Residents of nursing homes and other long-stay institutions
– Healthcare workers
– People with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs
Fever, headache, sore throat and all-over aches and pains are all symptoms that can be associated with flu. Flu is often self-limiting, with most people recovering in two to seven days. However, flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and death, especially in the very young and in the elderly. Research by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) estimates that over the last eight flu seasons, between 200 and 500 people in Ireland died each year from flu related illnesses. One in five people who die from the flu each year are healthy, with no pre-existing complaints, while the rest would be sufferers of previous illnesses such as cancer treatments, bronchitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
This year's flu vaccine is expected to be up to 90% effective. Last year's flu vaccine was not as effective, because the strain of flu that was circulating had changed and was not exactly the same as one of the three strains in the vaccine. However, the vaccine still reduced severe illness and hospitalisation for those in the at risk groups.
The seasonal flu vaccine helps your immune system to fight the flu virus. The flu vaccine will not give you the flu, as many people think; the flu vaccine contains killed or inactivated viruses and therefore cannot cause flu. It does, however, take 10 - 14 days for the vaccine to start protecting against flu.
Generally, people who get the flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. Anyone in one of the high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop influenza symptoms.
Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible, and cleaning your hands are important measures in helping prevent the spread of germs and reducing the risk of transmission.
Five minutes in a GP Clinic versus five days of fever, headaches and all-over aches is a decision that requires little thought.
Union Quay Medical Centre provides the flu vaccination for €15 per person. The Flu vaccination consultation includes:
Filling out a screening questionnaire to ensure the flu vaccine is suitable for you. (It is suitable for most people)
A brief consultation with our doctor or nurse, reviewing the questionnaire
Administering the vaccine
This brief flu vaccine consultation takes five minutes and can save you five days of suffering from the flu.
The HSE's dedicated immunisation website - www.hse.ie, provides details on the annual flu vaccination, along with answers to any questions people may have about flu.