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With Covid 19 still raging, don’t ignore the threat of seasonal flu

September 2020

Older person in hospital bed
Flu can be very serious indeed

In the past, flu was sometimes thought to be just a bad version of a cold. Now of course we know so much more and after Covid 19, we can understand more clearly what the world went through in 1918, when an influenza pandemic swept across the globe. This flu, which killed millions, was recorded as the most devastating infectious disease in history.

The problem with flu viruses is that they change continuously and come in different strains.  There are in very simple terms three main types of flu viruses, A, B and C. These are the ones usually responsible for seasonal influenza but it is a very complex area. These viruses can mutate, there are numerous sub strains and there is also a D strain.

Influenza A is usually the one that causes the most seasonal flu cases and it is often the type that is responsible for the most severe symptoms. A bit like Covid 19, this flu can be spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing and also by sneezing over and infecting objects which are then touched by others. A flu of this type may last for one or two weeks.

One type of influenza A virus was discovered ten years ago in Mexico and named H1N1 or more commonly Swine Flu. This became the first flu pandemic for four decades but while it is technically called a flu, the virus is very mutated.

Influenza B generally causes symptoms that can be less severe than with type A. Scientists say while Influenza B can cause epidemics it won’t cause a pandemic. For the record, an epidemic is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population or region while a pandemic is an epidemic that spreads over many countries and continents.  Like Influenza A, symptoms can last for a week or two.

Influenza C is the best type of flu to catch as its symptoms are much milder and usually goes away on its own after three to seven days.

Influenza D has only so far been identified in cattle and swine but scientists are suggesting a jump to humans may be possible.

The flu vaccinations we are offered each year are not the same as previous years. Instead, the World Health Organization continually monitors the viruses across the world and then makes updated recommendations about the strains which should be included in that year’s vaccine.  Researchers work out the strains of flu that are most likely to circulate each season, and then recommend specific vaccinations. For instance, vaccines may include:

  • One influenza A virus (H1N1)
  • One influenza A virus (H3N2)
  • One or two influenza B viruses

The vaccine you receive will only offer protection against the specific strains it contains so, even if you have had the vaccination, it makes sense to be sensible and take what precautions you can to protect yourself. Luckily the precautions are similar to those we need to take for Covid 19.

With the flu and cold season approaching, protecting yourself as best you can is obvious. But it is also a good idea to be aware of some of the different symptoms, just so you can ensure that if you are unfortunate enough to catch something, you can quickly seek the best treatment. But, like the strains of flu, symptoms can vary enormously and, as always, if you are concerned then contact a medical professional.

Onset of symptoms Varied Gradual Abrupt
Fever Common Rare Common
Dry Cough Common Rare Common
Tiredness Common Possible Common
Shortness of Breath Possible No No
Aches and Pains Possible Common Common
Sore Throat Possible Common Common
Runny Nose Rare Common No
Nausea Rare No Common
Diarrhea Rare No Common
Loss of Taste and Smell Possible Can happen Rare
Source: WHO/NHS      


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