How to beat influenza

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am

As the temperature drops, the risk of flu rises. Don't suffer this winter - it's easy to stay healthy with a vaccination and some other simple steps

Athe winter months approach, so does the flu season. In Hong Kong, flu is very common between January and March.

Flu, or influenza, is an infectious disease caused by influenza viruses. It is different from avian flu.

How flu spreads Flu viruses are passed from person to person, for example, by shaking hands with someone who has the flu and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.

When a person sneezes or coughs, droplets of liquid are released into the air.

These tiny particles can travel in the air and land in your mouth or nose if you're standing within a metre of the person who coughed or sneezed.

You can have the virus for up to three days before you show any symptoms.

This means a person can infect others even before they show symptoms, and for up to a week or more after falling ill.

Symptoms of flu

Symptoms of flu include high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle ache.

People generally start getting better within two to seven days, but there may be complications among the elderly or those with chronic illnesses.

You can prevent flu

There are two ways to prevent flu. Vaccine: The flu shot is an 'inactivated vaccine', which means it contains 'killed' viruses. It is given with a needle.

It takes a couple of weeks for antibodies to develop in the body.

These provide protection against infection from real influenza viruses.

During these two weeks, you're still at risk of catching flu. So it's best to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, and well before the flu season starts.

The Hong Kong government recommends flu vaccines for particular groups of people.

These include those over 65 years old, those living in elderly homes or other institutions, people with long-term illnesses, children between six months and six years old, pregnant women, health care workers and those working with poultry.

But almost anyone can have the vaccine. Some people who are allergic to chicken eggs or have had severe reactions to flu shots need to talk to their doctors before getting vaccinated.

Good hygiene:

Avoid close contact with people who are ill. If you're ill, stay at home to help prevent others from falling sick.

Wear a mask if you have flu symptoms.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw it away as soon as you can.

Clean your hands regularly. If you can't get to a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth - flu viruses enter your body there.

Healthy living

Drink plenty of fluids - especially water - to help keep you hydrated and flush out any toxins and poisons. It is recommended that you drink at least eight glasses a day.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients) which boost the immune system and help your body to fight off illnesses. It's much better than taking vitamin pills.

Eat probiotic yoghurt. It contains bacteria which stimulate and strengthen the immune system.

Exercise regularly. People who are physically active don't get sick very often.

Try to find activities that you enjoy and can practise throughout the year, e.g. rollerblading, ice skating, basketball, squash or dancing.

Get enough sleep. If you don't get at least nine-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, your immune system can't run at full strength. This makes it harder for your body to fight off germs and viruses.

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