Beating the flu gremlins

(Inside Aotea, July 2009)

With all the talk of swine flu right now, it’s timely to remind you that this time of year is flu season — when flu viruses (and not just the pig-headed one) are on the prowl

It’s no fun catching flu, and there are a number of simple and easy precautions you should consider to help keep it at bay. In fact, our tips are all sensible general lifestyle tips and will help you with your overall health, too.

How can I protect myself from flu?

Keep your hands clean It is commonly thought that the flu virus is spread though the air and people then inhale it. But by far the most common way is to pick up the virus is on your hands and then transfer it to your face when, for example, you eat or rub your nose. Wash your hands regularly — and keep them away from your face.

Eat healthily Healthy food boosts your immune system. A strong immune system is better able to fight off viruses. Eat a good, balanced diet, including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins.

Sleep well and avoid stress When you’re tired or under stress, your immune system can easily get run down and allow viruses and other bugs to more easily work against you. Rest and proper sleep may be one of your cheapest (and most enjoyable!) remedies.

Get a flu shot Many people get flu injections at the start of winter to try and stop the flu virus. Flu shots contain inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that often have a range of flu strains in them. It is estimated that flu vaccines prevent influenza in about 70-90 per cent of healthy people younger than age 65 years.

Do I have flu or just a cold?

Though the flu and cold symptoms can seem similar, and both come from viruses, there are significant differences.

Flu symptoms usually develop quickly (over 3-6 hours) and consist of fever, body aches and headaches, dry cough and extreme tiredness. Some people may develop diarrhoea.

Cold symptoms are less severe and generally people experience nose and throat problems such a runny nose and a cough.

What is flu and where does it come from?

Influenza is a virus that’s spread from person to person. It originates from water birds but can infect a wide range of animals too — even tigers, whales and dolphins.

Once humans get the virus it lives in our throats and we transmit to each other when we’re in close contact and also when we get the virus on our hands and touch ourselves or others.

Flu viruses are very unstable and so can mutate easily into different forms which is why new viral strains of influenza develop all the time. This is why new vaccines are needed regularly.