The time of year has arrived where flu becomes much more prominent.

Exactly how common flu is, is difficult to say. It’s near impossible to estimate how many cases there are each year; as we’ve written before, many people may opt not to see their doctor, and treat themselves at home.

Australia has emerged from its winter months to report that they’ve seen double the amount of flu cases than the previous year. The chief of the NHS in the UK has already voiced concerns over the 2017 flu season, warning healthcare providers to be on ‘high alert’.

Most cases can be treated at home, with plenty of rest and hydration. However, for pockets of the population, flu poses a more serious threat. It is estimated that around 600 people die each year in the UK due to flu-linked complications.

It is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of flu. But there are certain steps you can take to limit your exposure to it.

Flu vaccine

Each year a new batch of flu vaccine is created to try and limit the number of people who pick up the infection. Unfortunately, the flu jab is never 100% effective as the virus can be caused by numerous strains. But it can still offer a good level of protection.

The annual flu jab is offered for free on the NHS to persons more at risk of developing complications, such as those:

  • aged over 65;
  • with a chronic health condition such as asthma, heart, kidney or lung disease, or diabetes;
  • women who are pregnant;
  • and children aged between two and eight.

Ideally you should receive the flu vaccine in autumn (October to November) but if you are yet to have it administered it is still worthwhile contacting your doctor to check your eligibility.

If you are eligible for the flu vaccine you should make an appointment to have it administered as soon as possible.

If you are not eligible for the free NHS vaccine but you still want to receive the protection then you can pay for an immunisation. This can be carried out at various pharmacies nationwide, and the price ranges from £5 up to £12.99.

You can read more about the flu vaccine here.

Hygiene

The flu virus is transferred from one person to another by infected droplets. These can be expelled from the body via coughs and sneezes and land on surfaces. If we touch a surface contaminated with infected droplets, then the germs can transfer to our hands and then unknowingly to our nose, mouth or eyes.

You may be surprised to learn that droplets from a human sneeze can travel up to 25 feet. The germs can then go on to survive on some surfaces for up to 24 hours.

Sneezes and coughs should be caught in a tissue and promptly disposed of in a bin. If this is not possible then they should be caught in a sleeve, to try and limit the spread of infected droplets.

To reduce your risk of spreading or picking up infected droplets you should:

  • carry tissues as much as possible;
  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water;
  • avoid touching your face unnecessarily;
  • keep surfaces clean;
  • avoid contact with people who you know who are infected.

Diet

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is important year-round. In order for your immune system to function at its best you should aim to fuel it with a variety of foods, so that it receives the vitamins and minerals it needs.

The NHS recommends that you follow these tips to ensure you are following a healthy diet:

  1. Carbohydrates. Starchy carbohydrates should make up over one third of your overall diet. Wholegrain varieties are preferable as they also provide a good source of fibre.
  2. Fruit and veg. Incorporate at least five portions of fruit and vegetables into your diet on a daily basis.
  3. Fish. Aim to include two portions of fish in your meals each week (ideally one of the fish portions should be an oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines).
  4. Fat and sugar. Limit the amount of saturated fats and sugar you consume. Adults should limit their consumption to 20g per day.  
  5. Salt. Adults should not consume more than 2-6g of salt per day.
  6. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water (or sugar free clear fluids). A good general level to aim for is two litres per day.

Exercise

Taking part in regular physical exercise is important for our health and wellbeing, and it is also thought to help boost the immune system.

Not much is known about the role exercise plays in keeping the immune system strong. However, consistent physical activity can reduce your chances of developing health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, that can leave you more vulnerable to picking up infections.

Choose an exercise that you enjoy and can maintain. Some exercise is always better than no exercise.

Sleep

Sufficient amounts of sleep is vital to keep the body running efficiently. Poor sleep patterns can disrupt the immune system, leaving your body less able to fight off viruses when it comes into contact with them.

Most adults should be aiming for around seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Antiviral medication

The use of antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, is usually only administered under certain circumstances. Your doctor will prescribe antiviral medication if they think you are at risk and it is necessary.

Antibiotics are not used to treat influenza because they do not work on viral infections.

Your doctor may undertake certain checks before prescribing flu prevention treatment. They may be more likely to issue a prescription if:  

  • there are lots of cases of flu in the area;
  • you fall into an at-risk category (for example, if you are pregnant or you have an underlying medical condition);
  • you have recently been in contact with someone who has symptoms of the flu virus and you are able to commence treatment within 36-48 hours;
  • you have not had the flu vaccine or doctors think that it might not be effective.

If you’re concerned about flu and want to know more about to protect yourself against it, speak to your doctor.