Life Family

Monday 16 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Top tips to beat this year's dreaded flu bug

Practice good hygiene and stay healthy during winter bug season
Practice good hygiene and stay healthy during winter bug season

I heard an extremely sad story on the radio this week. A family were talking about losing their 15-year-old son to sepsis after he had a chest infection. He was a lovely boy, by all accounts, and they're devastated. They're talking about their loss as part of a new campaign to highlight the number of deaths from sepsis here every year. Sepsis is where the body is overwhelmed by a bacterial infection. And it can occur in anyone with any kind of infection - so what starts out as an ordinary chest, urinary tract or even skin infection can become something far more serious. It's more common in people who're vulnerable due to age, or other conditions, but it can also strike those who are young and fit. Recognising it in time is key - as it can move very rapidly.

People are very unwell when septic. Often clammy with high fever, a sickly pallor, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and weakness. If anyone is extremely unwell as part of an infection they should see a doctor urgently.

And this is the season, in particular, for respiratory tract or chest infections; so many of us will fall ill with colds, flus, bronchitis, sinusitis or pneumonia at this time of year. Influenza is one of the nastiest respiratory infections that will circulate from now until March. Flu is not the common cold. It hits harder and lasts longer - with up to 10 days of aches, pains, fevers, headaches, sore throats and coughs. So unless you're feeling rotten - you don't have the flu! But, more importantly, flu can lead to secondary infections like pneumonia, meningitis or sepsis, so every year hundreds of people in Ireland die from it or its complications.

Most of us do OK when we're sick, getting over things like flu, chest infections or other infections reasonably well. But that's not the case for everyone - the old, the young, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant women and smokers struggle, becoming far sicker, for far longer. And with our damp climate and major prevalence of asthma, it's well worth trying to stay healthy this winter.

So wash your hands regularly. Cover your nose and mouth if you cough or sneeze - do it into a tissue which you then bin. Stay home from work or school if you're sick. If you have a cut on your skin, clean it thoroughly with soap or antibacterial products and keep it covered.

The flu vaccine is vital for those in at-risk groups. Older people are quite good at getting the vaccine but younger people with chronic conditions like diabetes or asthma, or indeed pregnant women, can fall through the net, leaving them open to possibly serious infection. Often they don't even realise they should be vaccinated. The pneumonia vaccine is also available for at-risk patients and although you don't require it every year like a flu jab, it's worth enquiring with your GP whether or not it's indicated for you.

Don't smoke. It's incredibly bad for your health and your respiratory system in particular. Half the people that do smoke will die from their cigarettes. Quit lines, e-cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapy and medications to block the cravings are all available. So before you spend another winter coughing and getting sick, do yourself a favour and bin the fags.

But I suppose, most importantly, we need to get real about antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise. More 'super bugs' are evolving that can't be killed by the majority of antibiotics currently available. A time may come again when - as in the past - we're simply unable to treat certain infections. If that happens, sepsis will become increasingly common. We need to move away from using antibiotics for what are often viral infections in order to get kids back to creche, or because we're going on holidays or because a viral infection hasn't cleared in three days. The overuse of antibiotics is what's causing the resistance - we need to start reserving their use for when they are really needed.

Winter is upon us and people get sicker in these months. Do what you can to protect yourself. Stop smoking. Practice good hygiene. Get vaccinated. And if you're sick - get seen.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' between noon and 2pm weekdays on Newstalk

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life