The Dreaded Flu

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General practice is a seasonal business. We start with the pre-Christmas rush, followed by the ‘ I need to quit smoking/lose weight because it’s the New Year’ people, followed rapidly by hay fever seasons, then the ‘You have to make me better in time my holiday, Doc’ crowd, and consequently next come the ‘Please help with all the illnesses and injuries that happened to me while I was on my holiday’ crew. Reaching this point in the year can mean only one thing – we are about to descend into the challenge and chaos that is Flu season……..


Flu is a virus that is spread from person to person, and while it is not particularly dangerous for most people – although about 600 people a year die from flu in the UK – it can be a fairly miserable experience so is best avoided if at all possible. I stand by my opinion from last year, that if you pass the £50 note test (the £50 is yours if you will just go to your front door to claim it) then it probably isn’t flu, and anything that makes you that ill is something you can seriously do without.


There are some things you can do to avoid coming into contact with the virus in the first place – wash your hands and clean the surfaces in your home frequently and encourage all your loved ones to cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw it away immediately and wash their hands yet again.


You can also give your immune system a helping hand so that if the virus does make it into your body you have a fighting chance that it will not cause any serious illness. It will come as no surprise to regular readers that eating a healthy diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is critical, and exercise (which stimulates the immune system), plenty of rest, minimising stress where possible and taking a good multivitamin/mineral supplement are all recommended.


However, the best protection against flu is still the vaccine. It is 70-80% effective against the flu virus, and if you do happen to be one of the few who develop flu despite having been vaccinated then you are likely to have a much milder form of the condition with fewer serious complications and you are much less likely to need to go into hospital as a result of your illness. As always, certain people are considered to be at higher risk of flu than others, and for these the vaccine is recommended and freely available through the NHS. You should have a flu vaccine if :


You are aged over 65

You have heart disease

You have long term lung disease

You have kidney problems

You have liver disease

You have diabetes requiring treatment with insulin

You have a weakened immune system

You live long term in a care home


If you are not in any of the above categories you can probably still have the vaccine but may need to pay to have it privately. Your GP surgery will be able to advise you about this.


There are some side effects associated with the flu vaccine. Some people do feel a bit under the weather for a few days following the jab, but this is insignificant compared with the horror that is full blown flu, well worth the gamble in my book!


It is highly likely that your local GP will have planned a series of ‘flu clinics’, mornings or afternoons that are designated specifically for only those who want the flu vaccine, so if you decide that you want to go ahead and have it then a quick call to the surgery is all that is needed to find out when and where to turn up, much easier than fighting for an appointment in the time honoured tradition! If you have missed the flu clinics by now, don’t worry; your practice nurse will still be happy enough to give you the jab.


If you are unfortunate enough to develop flu – high fever, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches – then antibiotics are not going to help you, the best advice is to take plenty of paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain and fever, drink plenty of fluid, rest as much as possible and wait for the nightmare to be over. Please do not visit your GP with your germs, stay at home and if you really are worried then you can always contact them by telephone and ask for advice. If your GP is concerned enough about your illness that they think it is appropriate to examine you, then they will make arrangements for this to happen according to their surgery policy.


As always, I wish you a happy, flu-free winter!

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