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What Is the Flu Virus and How to Avoid It

• What are the symptoms of flu?
The flu symptoms include: sudden fever, cough, muscle and joint ache. You may also experience a runny nose, sore throat, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting.

• How does flu spread?
The flu virus spreads in the same way as all viral respiratory infections, from person to person, through tiny droplets emitted to the environment when people with flu cough or sneeze. The virus may also be transmitted indirectly from contaminated hands or other objects that have germs on them, through handshake or contact with objects such as surfaces, door knobs, keyboards, phones, light switches, etc. The virus may survive on surfaces from 2 to 8 hours. It can also spread when we touch our nose, mouth or eyes with our hands.

• Can the flu virus be detected?
The flu virus may be detected immediately and reliably with rapid tests and molecular biology tests (real-time PCR) on nasal or throat swabs. In the event of a negative rapid test and strong clinical suspicion, a nasal or throat swab must be sent for PCR detection of the virus. Specimens are collected using special swabs and the results are available in 24 hours at the most.

• Which groups of people are at high risk of developing flu?
There are some groups of people with underlying conditions who are considered high-risk because they may develop serious complications. These include:

o Children younger than 5 and adults over 65 years of age
o Pregnant women
o People with heart diseases, chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, chronic endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus), chronic kidney and liver disorders, weakened immune system (chronic use of cortisone and cancer), neurological and neuromuscular conditions, morbid obesity, sickle cell disease and microdrepanocytic anemia, and children on long-term aspirin therapy.

Another category are healthcare professionals, as well as people working in healthcare facilities. It is strongly recommended that these individuals are vaccinated against seasonal flu. Vaccination of medical and nursing personnel is a must because not only does it protect them, but also the hospitalized patients.

• How can I protect myself from the flus virus?
There are 4 basic steps for preventing the flu, especially among high-risk groups, such as people working in healthcare facilities:

1. Follow the proper hygiene rules, and mainly wash your hands with soap and water, and disinfect them with alcohol-based hand sanitizers
2. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or with your upper sleeve
3. GET A FLU VACCINE RIGHT AWAY
4. Start proper prophylactic treatment early, by taking antiviral medication, such as Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) This mainly concerns people in high-risk groups who have not been vaccinated, but have come into contact with people who have the flu.

• How can I protect others if a get the flu?
If you get the flu, you must stay home and avoid enclosed spaces or coming into contact with others, such as children or people in high-risk groups, for 7 days or 2 days after the symptoms have subsided.

• What should I do if I experience flu symptoms?
If you feel sick and experience high fever, muscle aches and/or cough, you must stay home and contact your family doctor for advice. You must not take any antibiotics before consulting your doctor, as antibiotics do not combat viruses (such as the flu), while they will not be active if you later need them to combat flu complications, such as pneumonia.

SOURCE: HYGEIA Infection Control Committee