Flu season returns and we've outlined what you need to know
You may have heard of the severe flu outbreak making its way through Australia.
There have been reports of a number of children, and even parents, who have fallen extremely ill with the flu as well as Irish hospitals being warned of a potentially very busy season ahead.
Earlier this week, it was confirmed that an eight-year-old from Melbourne, Victoria had passed away as a result of the 'horror flu season'.
So, what’s causing it and do we really know just how the flu operates?
The flu virus is made up of proteins, which can transform and mutate over time. It means our immune systems might not be very well equipped to fight this 'new and improved' protein as our bodies don’t recognise it.
The influenza virus - more commonly referred to as ‘the flu’- is what causes us to feel unwell and is categorised into what are known as influenza A, B and C.
Type A springs up every year usually in winter, and this is the one that’s more likely to mutate. It’s also more serious than Type B which is responsible for the smaller outbreaks. It’s mainly seen to affect children but anyone can contract it, immunity to this type should last a number of years.
Type C is minor and is similar to a cold.
The symptoms that come with these include a nasty fever, runny nose, headaches, coughing, muscle pain and a general sensation of feeling awful. Although these symptoms are very similar to that of a cold, symptoms of flu are much more severe and can come on very quickly causing a person to be bed-ridden and not being able to take part in their usual activities.
The flu virus is spread through sneezing, coughing and the likes and can stay floating in the air until teeny-tiny droplet land on surfaces where the virus will live for up to 24 hours, according to the HSE.
If you do happen to contract the flu it’s wise to ensure you stay well hydrated which will help your body function just right to fight the pesky virus. Over the counter paracetamol is super for relieving harsh symptoms, just be sure not to give anyone under 16 years of age anything containing aspirin. And best of all – sleep (if you can)!
Sometimes it’s not always so simply however. The seasonal flu (type A) can actually develop into pneumonia which could be fatal for the very young, elderly and those with poor immune systems. Some extremely rare outcomes of contracting the virus include meningitis (effects brain and spine) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Pregnant women are more likely to see complications if they contract the flu virus. The best way to protect against it, according to doctors and the HSE, is to get the yearly influenza vaccine. Those who are elderly, who have a long-term illness and anyone working in the healthcare industry should also avail of this.
The news we’re hearing about the flu virus in Australia is referring to what’s known as an ‘antigenic drift’ meaning the virus has mutated in a very minor way, but still causes trouble due to us having less immunity to it.
Thankfully it is not an ‘antigenic shift’ which would be a cause for concern. This could lead to a pandemic as it often sees the virus mutate significantly.
Ensuring we eat healthily, get enough sleep to restore our body’s cells and generally look after ourselves, can help fight against the flu. If you do find yourself with any nasty symptoms, a visit to your doctor might be in order.
For more information, have a look here.