Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease that is transmitted through the air by coughs and sneezes. Every year, influenza spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics, resulting in numerous deaths.
The 2009 flu pandemic is a global outbreak of a new strain of influenza A virus subtype H1N1 – officially referred to as Novel H1N1 – which was first identified in April 2009 and is commonly called “swine flu”. This new strain is associated with severe symptoms and may contribute to an increasingly difficult and worrying flu season.
Flu-like symptoms can include:
- Fever (usually high)
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Occasional Diarrhoea
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Extreme tiredness / fatigue
- Dry cough
Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), together with the Aga Khan Health Boards for Canada the United Kingdom and the United States, recommend the following three steps that can help prevent the spread of influenza.
Step 1: Get vaccinated
- Public health agencies recommend that individuals be vaccinated against the seasonal and H1N1 flu to protect the public and save lives. This is especially important for children, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women and others who are considered particularly vulnerable.
- The sequencing and prioritisation of vaccines vary between different regions around the world. Refer to your local public health agency for further information, but always consult your doctor first.
Step 2: Take preventive actions every day
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. After use, throw the tissue in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces like door handles and worktops with a household cleaner.
- If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours until after your fever is gone and seek medical attention.
- Limit your contact with other people as much as possible to avoid transmitting the virus and making other people sick.
Step 3: If recommended, take flu antiviral drugs
- The seasonal or Novel H1N1 flu may be treated with antiviral drugs, which can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.
- Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics. They are prescribed on the advice of a health professional. Antiviral drugs may be especially important for people who are very sick (hospitalised) or people who are at an increased risk of serious flu complications, such as pregnant women, young children and those with chronic health conditions.
- For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started within the first two days following the onset of symptoms.