As the cold weather approaches, so do all the winter germs, from our common coughs and colds to the nastier illnesses like flu .
WHY IS FLU MORE COMMON IN WINTER MONTHS?
The very name for flu “influenza” is an Italian word that some historians think originated in the mid-18th century as “influenza di freddo” meaning “influence of the cold.”
Over the years different theories have been put forward such as the colder weather lowering our immune systems (perhaps through lower vitamin D), or that people are more likely to stay indoors where they will be in closer contact with others carrying germs – the overcrowding theory.
It is now believed that the main reason for flu epidemics in winter months is that the flu virus is more stable and stays in the air longer when the air is cold and dry. Droplets aerosol more easily when the conditions are dry and so spread more easily.
HOW DO I CATCH FLU?
People with flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away. It spread by droplets from our mouths and noses when we cough, sneeze or talk. These can then land in the noses and mouths of people nearby or be inhaled.
Another way is through touching surfaces that may have droplets containing flu virus and then touching our mouth or nose. The flu virus can survive on surfaces for around 24 hours.
Staying away from those with the virus (where possible), cleaning surfaces with disinfectant, and washing hands in soapy water or an alcohol based hand gel will help reduce our risk of getting it.
HOW LONG IS IT CONTAGIOUS FOR?
Flu is contagious 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after. Some people may have the virus but have no symptoms and therefore be transmitting the virus without knowing.
Symptoms and signs and prevention
These are covered well here by NHS Choices.
WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED? I HAVE NEVER HAD FLU, NOR HAS MY CHILD
Flu can cause a very unpleasant illness and for some it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, it can result in a stay in hospital or even death.
This year there are particular concerns about a severe flu epidemic following the recent “Aussie flu” which has been one of the worst epidemics they have had in the last 50 years.
The flu vaccine is made in advance of the season and contains vaccines against the predicted circulating strains. Over the past 10 years there has reportedly been a good match, but given that viruses change, it is not 100% effective and won’t protect against other viruses for coughs and colds. It does however offer the best protection we have available.
Public Health England have produced 2 good leaflets on :
Both are worth a read if you are debating what to do.
My take-away points when thinking about whether to get my own children vaccinated were:
- Reduced chance of spreading the illness within my own family – less likely for elderly relatives to get it or for us to need to take time off work or be unable to look after our kids
- In pilot areas where all primary school children were vaccinated, there was less flu in all age groups of the population so benefiting the wider community.