Lorraine: Dr Hilary busts cold and flu myths
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As pressure mounts on the strained national health service, consultant microbiologist Dr Adam Brown said: “It is vital that we take actions that help control these infections and reduce the risk of spread.” Dr Brown added: “We are seeing an exceptionally large rise in cases of influenza in the community across Scotland.” Official data from NHS England revealed that were were more than 3,700 patients a day in hospital with the flu last week – up from 520 daily the month beforehand.
Of these, 267 people required specialised care in critical care beds last week.
To compare, this time last year, there were only 34 patients in hospital a day with flu.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, commented on the latest figures.
“Sadly, these latest flu numbers show our fears of a ‘twindemic’ have been realised, with cases up seven-fold in just a month.”
Symptoms of the flu:
- A sudden high temperature
- An aching body
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- A dry cough
- A sore throat
- A headache
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhoea or tummy pain
- Feeling sick and being sick
Adding that this is “no time to be complacent”, the risk of serious illness from the flu is “very real”.
Complications of the flu mostly affect those aged 65 or older, pregnant women, and people who have long-term medical conditions or those who have a weakened immune system.
The NHS adds that complications can include: chest infections, middle ear infections, worsening of pre-existing medical conditions, and pregnancy complications.
Following on from the flu, a chest infection can develop, which could be “severe and life-threatening”.
The main symptoms of a chest infection are:
- A chesty cough – you may cough up green or yellow mucus
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- A high temperature
- A headache
- Aching muscles
The symptoms can persist for up to 10 days; meanwhile, the cough could linger for up to three weeks.
People suffering from a chest infection are advised to get plenty of rest, to drink lots of water, and to “avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature”.
Cough medicines are not necessary, as there is “little evidence to show they help”.
It’s recommended to seek the support of your doctor if you have a chest infection and you’re in a high-risk group of flu complications.
Moreover, if the symptoms worsen, rather than getting better, it’s time to call your GP.
Middle ear infections
The flu-causing virus can travel from the throat to the eustachian tube, which can lead to ear ache.
Symptoms of a middle ear infection can include:
- Hearing loss (may be only temporary, due to fluid accumulation)
- Decreased appetite, difficulty feeding
- Disturbed sleep
- Drainage from ear
- Difficulty with balance.
While most ear infections can pass on their own in three days, medication might be needed for more longer-lasting infections.
The NCT, a leading charity for parents, caution that a flu infection during pregnancy could result in premature birth, a low birth weight, and even stillbirth.
“Expectant mums who get flu are at risk of getting serious complications, such as bronchitis, which can then develop into pneumonia,” the NCT warns.
“You might also be more susceptible to ear and blood infections, which can lead to septic shock, as well as meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).”
This is why pregnant women are encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu.
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