by Jodie Williamson, Pharmacist and Professional Development and Engagement Lead at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales.
In September 2017, the NHS announced that it was preparing for the worst flu season it has ever seen. This is likely to be caused by a heavy flu season, which has been predicted in the wake of more cases of flu than usual detected during the southern hemisphere winter, and a lack of hospital beds. With that in mind, it’s time to think about what you can do to protect yourself.
What is flu?
Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness affecting the lungs and airways, caused by a virus. While the symptoms are often similar to those of a common cold, they tend to develop more quickly, include muscular aches and pains, and result in you being too unwell to go about your daily activities. Some people are also more at risk of developing serious complications for example those aged over 65, pregnant women, people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and those with a weakened immune system.
Prevention is better than cure
The good news is, there are a number of things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting flu this winter. If you are aged 65 or over, pregnant, have an underlying health condition (particularly heart or lung conditions), a weakened immune system, or care for someone who would be at risk if you became ill, then you are likely to be eligible for a free flu vaccine on the NHS. These are available through your GP practice or from many pharmacies across Wales, so you can make an appointment at a time and place that is convenient for you. If you are not eligible for the free vaccine, most pharmacies will offer a private service so you can protect yourself, often for a cost of under £10.
It is also important to make sure you practice good hygiene to minimise your risk of getting flu or prevent spreading it to others. Always wash your hands with soap and water after coughing or sneezing, after going to the toilet, before and after handling food, and after coming into contact with someone who is unwell. Make sure to clean surfaces such as computer keyboards, door handles and telephones regularly, and always use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze. Tissues should then be put in the bin as soon as possible after use.
What to do if you get flu
If you develop flu this winter, you can treat yourself at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of water and taking pain killers and decongestant medication to help relieve your symptoms. Your pharmacist can recommend the best ones for you. However, you should contact your GP if you are in the ‘at risk’ groups mentioned above, develop chest pain, shortness of breath or begin to cough up blood, or if your symptoms don’t start to improve after a week.
For more information on how to prevent the spread of flu, head to the Public Health Wales flu site.