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Flu season is not over yet – and this season will be the worst in five years

If you have not yet “had” your winter flu – then be prepared as the season is not over. This year the season has started late – and the Danish centre monitoring the situation, Statens Serum Institut’s national influenza centre, is reporting a marked increase in hospitalisation in week 7 due to severe cases of this season’s flu.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

This year, the flu season is seen as particularly hard on the elderly, the centre reports, since one of the flu viruses called influenza B/ Yamagata is dominating in the samples taken, and unfortunately, it was not part of the cocktail in this year’s flu vaccine.

In Denmark, the yearly influenza vaccine is free for elderly citizens and other risk groups, who are usually vaccinated during the late autumn.

To Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, Professor Jens Lundgren from the medical centre for infections at Rigshospitalet said that he believes about 1.5 million Danes in the next weeks will be “hit” by influenza.

According to him most people are able to get well again at home, however, the larger the outburst, the more need to be hospitalised, making it even more important to identify those who need to go to the hospital from those who don’t.

Risk groups are elderly people over 65, and others in bad health, and for some illnesses, such as diabetes or heart diseases, a severe case of influenza may negatively affect their condition.

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New American research has shown that influenza is much more contagious than what was believed so far.

Even just breathing in the same room as someone who is infected can be the cause of your contagion, all the more reason to go straight home to bed if you have symptoms, Thea Kølsen Fischer from Statens Serum Institut’s viral disease research centre said to Jyllands Posten.

Contrary to common belief, antibiotics are no cure for a flu infection. Instead antiviral medication can be taken, however, it is only useful if administered as quickly as possible after the first symptoms have begun – and at the latest 48 hours after the first symptoms.

It will not prevent the flu from developing but can reduce the duration of your illness with one or two days.

According to the centre the rest of Europe is also hard hit with the influenza B/Yamagata, however, other ones are also present of the type A (H1N1) and A(H3N2).

The US reports a very tough influenza season with more cases of hospitalisation than usual – here it is the influenza type A (H3N2), which is the cause of it.

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How to prevent contagion – of yourself, or giving it to others

Avoid close contact with people whom you know are ill

Stay home from work, school or any other activity if you are ill

Avoid sneezing or coughing into your hand – use a handkerchief or your sleeve

Wash your hands often with water and soap – especially after sneezing or blowing your nose – you can also use hand-spirit (70 to 85 %) – and it is actually recommend if available ( this can be bought in small pocket- or handbag format at the pharmacy)

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands if you did not just wash them. This way you avoid contagion should you have vira on your hands

Keep surfaces clean (in your home or office) through normal cleaning and make sure common facilities are cleaned regularly.

Flu symtoms

Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish flu symptoms from a cold. However, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. Another key difference is a sudden high fever, severe aches in muscles and joints, pain and tiredness around your eyes, weakness or extreme fatigue, and a general feeling of being sick.

You may also have a headache, a dry cough, a sore throat and a runny nose.

In the normal uncomplicated cases the symptoms last four to five days, but often you will feel tired and weary for one to two weeks afterwards.

Severe cases are often followed by lung-diseases and pneumonia, which are bacterial infections. These are treated with antibiotics.