If you’re one of the many people who still believe that it’s OK to let the flu run its course, think again. The flu is a virus that’s transmitted through contact with someone who’s infected, by droplets via a cough or a sneeze, or contaminated items, such as pens and pencils.
The danger is that, left untreated, the flu can develop into pneumonia and bronchitis, which may result in hospitalisation and, in severe cases, even death. "The first thing you need to understand is that there’s a big difference between a common cold and the flu," says Professor Robin Green, head of Paediatric Pulmonology at Pretoria Academic Hospital.
"They are caused by different viruses. The common cold is caused by the rotavirus, the flu by the influenza virus, and unlike a cold, the flu can lead to serious complications. Flu spreads very quickly and people can deteriorate quite rapidly which is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made firm recommendations about the implementation of flu vaccination programmes which save countless lives each year."
Preventing the flu with the flu vaccine
It can help prevent the flu, especially for children under the age of five, the elderly, and if you suffer from chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, respiratory conditions, eg. asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), or if your immune system is compromised by cancer or HIV/Aids.
"The flu virus presents in different strains and these strains mutate each year which means that the vaccine has to be updated each year to be effective. It’s also the reason why last year’s vaccine will not protect you from this year’s flu strains and why you need to go for a flu shot every year," says Professor Green.
Although the protective antibody response of the flu shot takes about two weeks to develop, you can have the vaccine at any time during the flu season which in South Africa is between April and August.
The natural therapy route
Dr Myron Schultz, president of the Homeopathy Society of South Africa, explains that you’ll be treated by a homeopath prophylactically – before the flu strikes – and will be given the actual flu strain that is circulating that year, in a diluted form – usually three times a week. Ironically this treatment is based on similar principles to the conventional flu vaccine, except it is given by mouth.
"The principles of homeopathic medicine treatment are to give a treatment that mimics the symptoms of the disease and as flu vaccines contain dead flu viruses. The vaccine is in fact a form of homeopathy!"
Build a strong and healthy immune system
This is your best defence against a viral infection, insists Dr Eva Mihal-Bazzea, a naturopath in Cape Town. "The flu virus, like any virus, is a parasite and if your immune system is compromised and your vitality is low, you will be at risk." Furthermore, viruses and bacteria thrive in an acidic environment, so build up immunity by avoiding acid-forming foods like refined wheat, sugar, excessive dairy or red meat consumption and fast foods.
Plus, take these measures:
- Stop smoking: it’s one of the biggest risk factors for both viral and bacterial disease.
- Get plenty of sleep: fatigue compromises your immune system and lowers your resistance to disease.
- Wash your hands frequently: Also stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. Dr Mihal-Bazzea says, "At the end of the day viruses have been part of our lives for as long as we can remember and it’s only a strong immune system that will keep infection at bay."
What to do if you get the flu
It’s very important not to go it alone. "Over-the-counter remedies do nothing to treat or limit the spread of flu," warns Professor Green. "At best they may offer relief for some of the symptoms, which is why it’s so important to seek medical treatment." It’s also important to understand that antibiotics will not help you if you do get the flu, explains Professor Charles Feldman, a pulmonologist at Wits University.
"Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria and the flu is caused by a virus," he explains. What may help you is Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, which is only available on prescription, and comes in syrup and capsule form. A generic version is also available. It’s an effective treatment for uncomplicated flu cases if you’re one year or older, and if taken within 48 hours of your symptoms appearing. This medication diminishes the severity of your symptoms and shortens the duration of the infection by preventing the virus from replicating.
Above all: rest!
"If you do get the flu it’s best to stay in bed," says Dr Mihal-Bazzea. "Not only do you need the rest to recover, but because it’s highly contagious, you’re doing your colleagues a favour by not spreading the virus on to them."
Above all, don’t be tempted to brave it out and carry on exercising as usual when you’re flattened by the flu. When you’re feeling unwell the last thing you need to do is to compromise your immune system even further or put your body under more stress because you ‘really need’ that run or that workout at the gym. Instead take time out, and allow yourself the time to heal.
Boost your immune system
Dr Mihal-Bazzea suggests the following methods:
- Boost your immune system by increasing your vitamin C intake. Try this vitamin C powder available at Clicks.
- Try to decrease your stress levels. Chronic stress lowers your immunity.
- Get moving. Winter is a great time for exercise so go for a brisk walk whenever possible.
Drink lots of fluids, whether hot or cold water or healthy herbal teas. Try a slice of lemon or fresh ginger in boiling water, and add a splash of honey. Both are great if you do land up getting the flu virus.
How Clicks Clinics can help you during the flu season
Book an appointment for a flu vaccination at a Clicks Clinic by calling 0860 254 257 or visiting Clicks Clinics online. The good news is that most medical aids now cover the flu vaccination and sometimes even reward members.
Take note that the following people cannot get vaccinated:
- Babies younger than 6 months
- Anyone allergic to eggs
- Anyone who already has a fever
- Anyone who has shown a past reaction to a vaccine
Shop now at Clicks.co.za for cold and flu remedies
To help you ward off colds and the flu, or recover from them, Clicks pharmacists have selected the most trustworthy and affordable products for you to purchase online. These include a wide range of vitamins and supplements and cough, cold and flu remedies.
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