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Seasonal flu (also known as influenza) is a highly infectious illness caused by a flu virus.
The virus infects your lungs and upper airways, causing a sudden high temperature and general aches and pains.
You could also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a dry cough. You may need to stay in bed until your symptoms get better. Symptoms can last for up to a week.
How it is spread
The flu virus is spread in the small droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. If you breathe in these droplets, you may become infected.
Flu can also spread if someone with the virus touches common surfaces such as door handles with unwashed hands.
The infectious period
Symptoms develop one to four days (two days on average) after being infected.
People with flu are usually infectious (can spread the virus) a day before symptoms start, and remain infectious for five or six days. Children and people with weaker immune systems (such as cancer patients) may remain infectious for slightly longer.
Try to avoid all unnecessary contact with others during this infectious period.
A video of how flu spreads
This video is quite good, it gives an intro as to how the flu enters your immune system and reproduce itself.
How common is it?
Seasonal flu is a very common illness that occurs every year, usually during the winter months (October to April in the UK).
The number of people who consult their GP with flu-like symptoms varies from year to year, but is usually between 50 and 200 for every 100,000 people. This is in addition to the many people with flu who do not see their GP.
Your symptoms will usually peak after two to three days. You should begin to feel much better within five to eight days.
However, elderly people or those with certain medical conditions may develop a complication such as a chest infection. This can lead to serious illness and can be life-threatening.
In the UK, about 600 people a year die from seasonal flu. This rises to around 13,000 during an epidemic.
A seasonal flu vaccine is available free if you are over 65, have a serious medical condition or live in a residential home. For more information see Seasonal flu jab.
With no cure in sight for the cold or the flu, current treatments can at best bring symptom relief or shorten the duration of those symptoms. You can take one of a variety of medications that may help relieve your symptoms. Or you can take the natural approach.
1. Drink hot liquids
Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, help prevent dehydration, and can soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. Plus it’s nice to drink warm.
2. Blow your nose often — and the right way
It’s important to blow your nose regularly when you have a cold rather than sniffling mucus back into your head. But when you blow hard, pressure can cause an earache. The best way to blow your nose: Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other. Wash your hands after blowing your nose.
3. Stay rested
Resting when you first come down with a cold or the flu helps your body direct its energy toward the immune battle. This battle taxes the body. So give it a little help by lying down under a blanket.
4. Take vitamin C
Boost your immune system with Vitamin C every few hours. It will ensure your immune system is in top condition to fight the virus.
Gargling can moisten a sore throat and bring temporary relief. Try a teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water, four times daily. To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle — such as tea that contains tannin — to tighten the membranes. Or use a thick, viscous gargle made with honey, popular in folk medicine. Steep one tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice in two cups of hot water; mix with one teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling. Honey should never be given to children less than 1 year old.
6. Take a steamy shower
Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and relax you. If you’re dizzy from the flu, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby and take a sponge bath.
7. Use a salve under your nose
A small dab of mentholated salve under your nose can open breathing passages and help soothe the irritated skin at the base of the nose. Menthol, eucalyptus and camphor all have mild numbing ingredients that may help relieve the pain of a nose rubbed raw.
8. Apply hot or cold packs around your congested sinuses
Either temperature may help you feel more comfortable. You can buy reusable hot or cold packs at a drugstore. Or make your own. Take a damp washcloth and heat it for 55 seconds in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it’s right for you.) Or take a small bag of frozen peas to use as a cold pack.
9. Sleep with an extra pillow under your head
This will help with the drainage of nasal passages. If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
10. Echinacea and goldenseal for your stomach
Use herbs such as echinacea and goldenseal which are said to help with influenza, also try ginger tea to settle your stomach.
11. For you throat
Take slippery elm and marshmallow for an irritated throat and cough.
Also you can dissolve a zinc lozenge under your tongue every two hours, not only are these a great immunostimulant, they will also make your throat feel better.
12. Garlic pills to cleanse
Try to swallow 2 garlic pills 3 times a day; these act as an antiboitic and are said to cleanse the system.
13. For your nose try Eucalyptus
Inhale eucalyptus oil by putting five drops in a hot bath or a cup of water.
14. As soon as you can eat..
Start with broth (chicken or vegetable) and dry crackers once you can tolerate food.
Remember, serious conditions can masquerade as the common cold and a mild infection can evolve into something more serious. If you have severe symptoms or are feeling sicker with each passing day, see a doctor.
If you want to avoid getting the flu this winter, follow these proven techniques for boosting your immune system, fighting off germs, and keeping your body healthy.
A few simple recommendations
1. Get enough sleep: Your immune system functions much better when you get enough sleep. Most people really need about 8 hours per night for optimal health. If you’re body is fatigued, it simply won’t be able to fight off the flu virus (or any other infection) very well.
2. Exercise regularly: Exercise helps keep your immune system strong. In fact, a recent study showed that mice who performed mild exercise as soon as they were exposed to the flu virus had much lower death rates.
3. Avoid sugar: Even small amounts of sugar can significantly impair your immune function, making you more susceptible to a flu infection. A large amount of sugar, such as the amount found in a normal can of soda, hurts your immune function for hours.
4. Drink lots of pure water: Keeping your mucous membranes well-hydrated is a key to helping them fight off viruses. Shoot for about eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
5. Reduce stress: Too much stress has a highly negative impact on your overall health and, over time, it will make you much more susceptible to a flu infection. Studies show that prolonged stress is at least partially responsible for 90% of all illness and disease. Regular exercise and sufficient sleep both help reduce stress levels. Also, meditation is a proven stress-buster that is easy, enjoyable and can be used on a daily basis.
6. Wash your hands often: Also, carry a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently, especially after you touch anything that others have touched recently (like doorknobs).
7. Eat immune-boosting foods on a daily basis: A healthy diet, including a few proven immune-boosting foods, is one of the best ways to avoid catching the flu. The best flu-fighting foods are:
Fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables – Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are packed with healthy phytonutrients that can strengthen your immune system, lowering your susceptibility to the flu virus.
Fresh raw or lightly-cooked garlic – Garlic has strong natural antiviral properties that can help to fight off a flu virus. Also, garlic provides a strong boost to your immune system, especially when eaten on a regular basis.
Green Tea – Like garlic, green tea has shown the ability to both kill viruses and to stimulate the immune system to fight off flu infections, especially when used daily. Try to drink 3-6 cups of strong green tea per day during the flu season.
Cayenne Pepper – Cayenne has a long list of health benefits and is believed to be a mild immune-booster. Also, cayenne contains large amounts of natural vitamin A, considered to be an important “anti-infection” nutrient.
8. Keep your hands away from your face and head: The flu virus enters your body through the eyes, nose, mouth, and possibly even the ears.
9. Get fresh air every day: During the winter the dry heat from indoor heating systems dries out your mucous membranes and makes you more susceptible to viruses. If you can, during the day, crack open a window or two to give your body some relief.
10. Drink little or no alcohol during flu season: Too much alcohol impairs liver and immune function, which leaves you open to all kinds of infections. Heavy drinkers are especially susceptible to flu infections. Also, alcohol dehydrates your body which is always bad during flu season.
11. Don’t smoke and avoid smoke-filled places: First and second-hand smoke significantly impairs your immune system. It also dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes cilia, the small hairs in your nose and lungs that help keep out viruses.
12. Take regular saunas: Many experts believe that taking a sauna several times a week can help to keep you from getting the flu. Many people, especially in Europe, takes saunas just for this reason. The air you breath in a sauna is too hot for cold and flu viruses to survive.