Help prevent the spread of flu

by mary O’connor

The HSE is urging the public to help prevent the spread of flu and norovirus (the contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea ) by avoiding hospitals and GP surgeries so as not to infect others who may be already unwell.

Dr Aine McNamara, a specialist in public health medicine, says what we call weather illnesses such as colds, sore throats, coughs and such like, are viral, self-limiting illnesses and can be treated with fluids and analgesia (painkillers ). Most of these mild illnesses are viral and can be treated by yourself at home.

Antibiotics will not work on a viral infection, including flu. She advises sufferers to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat high temperatures, aches, and pains.

It is not too late to get the flu vaccine and it is particularly important for people in at risk groups, which includes everyone aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, anyone over six months of age with a long term illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment.

The flu vaccine is free if you are in an at-risk group but you may be charged a consultation fee, unless you have a medical card or a GP visit card.

Dr McNamara said: “You will know when you have the flu. It comes on more suddenly than a cold, the whole body is affected, and you’ll experience loss of appetite and energy. The advice is to stay in bed and rest, take fluids, and use over-the-counter remedies like paracetamol to ease symptoms. By venturing out to the GP or emergency department, you are not only putting your body through a stressful time, you are spreading the virus to people who may be in the at risk groups.

“Only if you are in one of the at-risk categories, or you are an otherwise healthy person who is getting worse a number of days into the flu-like illness, should you seek medical advice from your GP. Remember, there will be sicker, immuno-compromised, and elderly and frail people at the surgery and in our hospitals, for whom exposure to flu could prove fatal, so think before you head out the door.”

People can also prevent the spread of flu and norovirus in the following ways:-

1. Follow correct handwashing procedures and cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze. Use a tissue and place it immediately in the bin. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.

2. Do not cough or sneeze into your hands or you will spread germs to everything you touch. You can visit www.hse.ie/winter or www.undertheweather.ie for advice and self-care tips for treating mild and viral illnesses.

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