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Pre-empting flu season, strategies to protecting your family

Author
Dr Thapelo Motshudi
Category
Date
8 June 2023
4 min read

Flu season, strategies to protecting your family

Seasonal flu also known as influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness that affects millions of people worldwide each year. It is caused by influenza viruses, with three types identified: A, B, and C. Seasonal flu is a recurring occurrence, primarily observed during specific seasons, and its impact varies from mild to severe, depending on the strain and individual susceptibility.

The influenza virus undergoes frequent changes, which is why we encounter different strains each flu season. These changes, known as antigenic drift, result in slight modifications in the virus's surface proteins. As a result, the human immune system may not fully recognize the altered virus, making individuals susceptible to infection.

How is flu spread?

Seasonal flu typically spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the nose, mouth, or eyes. The virus has a short incubation period, usually one to four days, after which symptoms start to manifest.

Symptoms to look for?

Seasonal flu can range from mild to severe and may include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, fatigue, and headaches. Some individuals, particularly young children, older adults, pregnant women, and individuals with underlying health conditions, may experience more severe complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or worsening of pre-existing conditions.

How is flu prevented?

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent and control flu infections. However, it’s important to note that the flu vaccine is not recommended for children under six months and individuals with a history of severe reactions to it.

The flu vaccine contains either killed or weakened viruses, which cannot cause ill ness. When you receive the vaccine, it stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies that protect against specific strains of the flu virus.

The flu vaccine takes about 2-3 weeks to become effective and should be taken before the flu season (May to September) to provide protection for 6-12 months. However, getting vaccinated doesn’t provide complete immunity because not everyone responds to the vaccine. Young children and the elderly may have a lower immune response. Additionally, receiving the vaccine after being infected or not being vaccinated against the circulating strains can still result in getting the flu.

Treatment for uncomplicated flu focuses on symptom relief, including rest, stating hydrated, and using medications for cough, fever, and congestion. Complicated cases may require medical intervention and antiviral medication.

The flu vaccine is adjusted each year to target the specific strains expected to circulate. This adaption is necessary because different strains emerge annually. Generally, healthy individuals above six years old can receive the vaccine, but not everyone is eligible.

Strategies to protect your family

During flu season it is important to implement strategies to protect your family from the influenza virus, in addition to vaccination.

  • Stay at home until symptoms have resolved, typically at least 24 hours after the fever has subsided.
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially those at higher risk of severe flu.
  • Refrain from close contact activities like kissing or sharing drinks.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
  • Wash you hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Limit the number of visitors if you are already sick.
  • Clean frequently touched or shared surfaces regularly
  • Boost your immune system which includes eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep.

Although seasonal flu is a recurring occurrence, it should not be taken lightly. Its impact can be severe, especially for those at high risk of complications. Individuals should remain vigilant, follow preventive measures, and seek medical attention if necessary. Healthcare providers play a vital role in diagnosing and managing flu cases, ensuring appropriate treatment, and offering guidance on symptom management and prevention.

Seasonal flu is a common respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It recurs annually, with varying levels of severity depending on the strain and individual susceptibility. Vaccination, practicing good hygiene, and staying informed about flu activity are essential in minimizing the impact of seasonal flu. By taking these measures, individuals and communities can protect themselves and others, reducing the burden on healthcare systems and promoting overall well-being.


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