Monday 23 October 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly: How to avoid catching the dreaded flu

With flu on the rise and respiratory infections rampant - what can you do to stay well?

Ciara Kelly
Ciara Kelly
REST: The best thing to do if you have a respiratory infection is — nothing

Dr Ciara Kelly

I'm writing this week's column from my sick bed. Yes! The unthinkable has happened and here at Doctor's Orders we are unwell. The dreaded lurgy has finally caught up with me and I - not unlike half the country - am hacking and coughing and aching and paining to beat the band.

I'm not a good patient. I never get sick usually - we medics have the immune systems of horses. And frankly I feel I'm too busy for it, so I've no patience with it. But this bug - which, incidentally, has laid low my entire family, so this house resembles a sanatorium currently - paid no mind to that fact and infected me anyway. It's not the flu I have - I'm nicely vaccinated against that.

I went down with a respiratory virus but was unlucky enough to get a secondary bacterial chest infection. So I'm pretty much as sick as I've ever been as an adult and would really like if I had a Mum to tuck me up with some flat, fizzy drink and tell the teacher I'm not well enough for school.

But there's no doubt it's good to see how the other half lives. The whole country is currently in the throes of a flu outbreak, among other rampant respiratory infections, and it's no joke with schools and work places reporting massive amounts of people out sick. So what should you do if you or someone close to you is suffering from the seemingly omnipresent bugs that are doing the rounds.

Well, first off - don't pass it on! Respiratory infections are spread by droplets from our noses and mouths. So as a very basic first principle, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And parents, there is no age too young for your kids to learn this! If you have coughed or sneezed into a tissue put it straight in the bin and whether or not a tissue was used, wash your hands immediately so you won't infect door knobs or indeed other people's hands.

Respiratory infections can be very serious for the very old, the very young or those with poor health, so trying to limit their spread is really important.

The vast, vast majority of respiratory infections are caused by viruses. Which, as I'm sure you already know, cannot be treated by antibiotics. Viral infections make up about 80 or 90pc of coughs and sore throats and it is time and the body's own immune system that clears them. There is no magic bullet.

The best thing you can do if you have a respiratory infection is divert as much of your energies into getting well and supporting your own immune system as possible. So that means don't do anything, you don't absolutely have to.

Rest! Prior to the invention of antibiotics, people understood the notion of convalescing when they had a bug - to allow themselves to clear it.

Now we think we should be able to 'not be sick' - even when we clearly are sick - just by taking a few pills. That isn't how it works.

If you're sick you need to REST. Sleep. Drink lots of fluids. Eat plain carbs. You can alleviate some of the symptoms by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen or codeine. But the main message is, don't do anything! If you go football training, expect to feel worse afterwards. If you refuse to take time off work - expect this to linger.

The 10pc of respiratory infections that are bacterial and do need an antibiotic, are usually pretty obvious. You will get sicker. You will feel appalling, it'll hit you hard and fast and won't wax and wane like a virus can.

Very often you will need to go to the doctor to check what kind of a bug you have and also you may need a note for work.

But if you don't get an antibiotic - be happy. The drugs don't work.

@ciarakellydoc

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