Influenza

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

Influenza or flu is a contagious respiratory tract infection that is caused by the influenza virus. Contamination takes place by inhaling small droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, or via the hands or objects.

Bird flu and swine flu are separate kinds of flu.

Symptoms include coughing, headache, sore throat, fever, shivering, muscle pain and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea can also occur, particularly in children. The symptoms usually last several days to a week.

Complications, such as pneumonia, are more likely to occur in older people, pregnant women or individuals with underlying conditions.

A person who has had the flu can become ill again if infected by a different type of influenza virus.

Risk areas

Influenza occurs all over the world. There is a year-round risk in the tropics, whilst in the Southern hemisphere the influenza virus is present mainly during our summer (May to October). The flu viruses that circulate in the tropics or the Southern hemisphere are not always the same as those in the Northern hemisphere. As a result, the flu vaccine that is used here may not offer optimal protection.

Prevention

Coughing

Ensure that other people do not cough in your face.

Disposable tissues

When coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue and throw it in the rubbish bin straight away.

Basic hygiene

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

Vaccination

Vaccination offers the best protection. 

Vaccination offers protection for approximately six months, even though this does not offer 100% protection. 

The influenza vaccine is only available during the autumn and winter. 

Get the vaccine before winter starts if you fall into a “at risk group according the Belgian recommendations. 

If you are travelling to the tropics or the Southern hemisphere in the period from April to November, then you can consider getting another vaccination with the local vaccine (not available here). You will only benefit from this if you are travelling to this region for two weeks or more, as the vaccine only becomes effective after two weeks. 

The influenza vaccine does not offer protection against bird flu. 

In case of symptoms

Seek medical advice if you suffer any symptoms.

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