Saturday 14 December 2019

How to protect yourself from the dreaded flu as Irish cases double

For most people the flu can be managed at home by taking rest, fluids and paracetamol.
For most people the flu can be managed at home by taking rest, fluids and paracetamol.
Paracetamol is advised for those suffering with influenza

Patricia Murphy and Meadhbh McGrath

The HSE has said that the number of Irish people suffering from influenza has almost doubled throughout the past week and a number of outbreaks have been reported in hospitals, nursing homes and other acute care facilities.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Dr John Cuddihy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine said the number of reported cases has increased significantly over the Christmas period with 234 cases in every 100,000 reported this week.

“The numbers have roughly doubled in the last week. There was similar doubling in the previous week compared to the week before that so the trend is significantly upwards. What we’ve noticed as well is the strain of flu that’s been the most predominant this year is affecting older people more so than underage groups.”

Dr Cuddihy said the east of the country is the worst affected and advised those in the ‘at risk’ category to consider getting the flu vaccine.

Pregnant women are advised to get the flu vaccine
Pregnant women are advised to get the flu vaccine

“The flu vaccine is very a safe and effective vaccine and the message today is that it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine now. Over 65s, those with long term medical conditions, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, at any stage, are recommended to have the vaccine.

“Flu can cause severe illness and it can be life threatening and it can cause long term illnesses and pose a risk to people who are pregnant. We are advising people to avail of the vaccine through their GP, their pharmacist or the occupational health departments,” he said.

For most people the flu can be managed at home by taking rest, fluids and paracetamol. For people who have severe illness or complications of flu, and if their symptoms are getting worse and disimproving, they may need to telephone their GP for advice.

How to avoid getting the flu in the first place


The number of cases of flu has doubled in Ireland throughout the Christmas period
The number of cases of flu has doubled in Ireland throughout the Christmas period

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Get sleep, but not too much

Get ahead of the cold and flu season by making sure you get at least seven hours sleep a night. If you’re not a great sleeper, try to exercise regularly and cut down on alcohol and caffeine (especially in the afternoon) to give yourself a better night’s rest.

Why does it work?

Everyone knows that when you’re run-down, you’re more prone to illness. A study conducted earlier this year found that people who got less than seven hours sleep were three times more likely to catch a cold.

When you’re sick, you need extra shut-eye to combat infection. Add another pillow so your head is higher than normal — it can ease sinus pressure and make it easier to breathe.



It sounds obvious, but you should be drinking at least three litres (women) or four litres (men) a day when you’re tackling a cold or flu.

Why does it work?

Replacing fluids lost due to fever and infection is essential. If you’re blowing your nose every 30 seconds, you’re at risk of becoming dehydrated, which can make congestion worse. Hot tea with honey can help to reduce coughing and soothe inflamed membranes lining the nose and throat.



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Cleaning your hands frequently is key to reducing your chances of infection.

Cleaning your hands frequently is key to reducing your chances of infection. Wash your hands as often as possible, and don’t assume a quick rinse will cut it. Lather both sides with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Ensure you dry them thoroughly — germs cling more easily to skin when it’s wet.

Why does it work?

Cold viruses can live on surfaces for hours. Every time you shake hands with someone, pop into the break room at work or touch anything, you’re picking up germs. Frequent hand-washing is the best strategy to stop yourself from becoming infected, and to keep you from spreading your germs.



Most of us get enough zinc from a balanced diet, but zinc lozenges have the added bonus of killing viruses in your throat or nose.

Why does it work?

Zinc plays a crucial part in keeping the immune system strong. It also protects the body from infections by interfering with cold viruses binding to the lining of your nose, and can help to shorten a cold. 

Try: Solgar Flavo-Zinc Lozenges, €6.45 for 50 @ Nourish



It’s best to stock up on foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruits (pictured below), strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes, bell peppers and leafy green vegetables, but if you’re not getting enough in your diet, take it in supplement form.

Why does it work?

While clinical research has shown large doses of vitamin C can’t reduce the severity or duration of a cold, making sure you regularly consume lots of vitamin C in your diet helps to prevent infection.

The vitamin increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which work to fight colds and flu.

Try: Boots Vitamin C 1000mg, €7.99 for 60



Add a few drops of this refreshing oil to a basin of hot water or warm bath.

Why does it work?

One of the most irritating symptoms of a cold or flu is the ‘bunged-up’ feeling of a blocked nose.

“Eucalyptus essential oil is great to relieve congestion. If you have a cold or flu, it can immediately cleanse the respiratory tract and help you to breathe easier,” says Agnieszka Gawrylczyk, health consultant with Nourish.

Try: Atlantic Aromatics Eucalyptus Oil, €5.50 for 10ml, Nourish



Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Other sources include sunflower seeds, eggs, turkey, mushrooms and tuna.

Why does it work?

Selenium helps to balance the immune system by protecting the body from harmful bacteria that can lead to colds and flu.


Herbal remedy: the north American echinacea plant boosts the immune system.

A traditional herbal remedy, echinacea is widely used to fight infections, especially the common cold. It comes in many forms, including tablets, teas or throat sprays.

Why does it work?

“Echinacea works to boost your immune system by fighting bad bacteria, as well as cold and flu viruses. It works best at the beginning of a cold, so once you start to feel sick, that’s the time to take it,” says Gawrylczyk.

Try: Vogel Echinacea Cold & Flu, €12.35 for 40 tablets



Did you know that 70pc of your immune system is located in your gut? According to scientist and author Giulia Enders, the presence of gut bacteria has a significant impact on our overall wellbeing and our susceptibility to infection. While she was working on her PhD in gastroenterology in 2012, a YouTube clip of Enders’ presentation on the gut went viral, resulting in a bestselling book, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.

Since our guts play an important role in our health, it’s important to take care of them. Enders recommends eating prebiotic foods such as bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic and cabbage, which nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut.


The gut contains both “good” bacteria that keep us healthy and “bad” bacteria that can lead to increased risk of infection. A healthy gut is the basis of a healthy immune system, and ensuring a careful balance of good and bad bacteria with plenty of prebiotic foods can help you fend off colds and flu this season.


Tips for battling influenza

Flu symptoms

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A High fever - temperature over 38ºC/100.4ºF - is a symptom of influenza

• Sudden onset of symptoms

• High fever - temperature over 38ºC/100.4ºF

• Severe weakness and fatigue

• Dry cough

• Aching muscles and joints

• Sore throat

• Headache

• Runny nose

• Vomiting / diarrhoea



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Paracetamol is advised for those suffering with influenza

  • Fit and healthy people can manage their flu symptoms at home.
  • Stay indoors
  • Rest
  • Keep Warm
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids
  • Paracetamol and ibuprofen, available at your pharmacist, will help relieve headache, muscle pain and fever
  • Flu is a virus and antibiotics cannot treat viruses

Stages of flu

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Most people can battle the flu without going to the doctor

Day 1-2

Symptoms like sore throat, fever and muscle ache develop quickly and you will feel very unwell.

Day 3-5

Your symptoms are now at their peak and you will feel at your worst. It is important to drink plenty of fluids during this period.

5- 8 days

At this stage, you should start to feel much better although a cough and general tiredness may last for two to three weeks.


When to seek help

  • If your flu symptoms are severe and last for more than one week
  • If you have a chronic medical condition
  • If you are immune-compromised
  • If you are pregnant
  • In these circumstances you may need specific anti-viral medication

For more information and advice visit

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