Despite common misconceptions, influenza, or flu, is not just a common cold. It is a potentially life threatening illness. There are two types of influenza outbreak; seasonal flu and pandemic flu.
In healthy people, flu should clear up in the space of a week. However, it can have a serious effect on the most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant mothers and their unborn babies.
Good respiratory and hand hygiene practices can help to reduce transmission of all viruses. This includes:
- covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible
- disposing of dirty tissues promptly and carefully
- maintaining good basic hygiene, for example washing hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to face or to other people
- cleaning hard surfaces (eg door handles) frequently using a normal cleaning product
- making sure your children follow this advice.
These steps are crucial in defending yourself and your loved ones against seasonal flu, and also in a pandemic situation.
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new flu virus emerges, which we have little or no immunity to, so the virus spreads quickly.
The Department of Health leads on pandemic flu planning and has developed a national plan. The Government has a stockpile of anti-virals. The Surrey Local Resilience Forum has also developed plans to deal with a local pandemic.
The flu vaccine (or flu jab) is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who:
- are 65 years of age or over
- are pregnant
- have certain medical conditions
- are very overweight
- are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility
- receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if they fall ill
- are healthcare workers with direct patient contact, or social care workers.