February 6, 2020

What you need to know about flu in 5 questions

We hear a lot about flu each autumn, however, many aspects of the illness are still unclear. And there are just as many misconceptions about the illness as there are about the vaccine. We will try to answer the most frequently asked questions and challenge the most common preconceptions about flu.

“Influenza” is the name given to the viruses that cause flu epidemics each year, from mid-November to March. It is a contagious illness that affects 5 to 10% of the population each year, and up to 30% of the population during the most severe epidemics.

A flu epidemic causes on average 80 deaths per week in Luxembourg, and up to 120 deaths weekly when it is at its peak, generally during the months of January/February. (Source Laboratoire National de Santé [National Health Laboratory])

Why do we talk about “seasonal” flu?

It’s because there is a new virus each year. This is the reason why a flu vaccine is generally only effective for one season and you need to have another one each autumn.

How long is the incubation period?

Generally, the incubation period for flu is 2 to 3 days. However, it can range from 1 to 7 days.

When is an infected person contagious?

The period during which a person is contagious can vary considerably. In general, adults will start to be contagious on the day before symptoms appear. And they will remain contagious for 3 to 5 days. Children can be contagious earlier and remain so for up to 10 days after symptoms appear. The risk of contagion is always higher at the start of the illness and then gradually tapers off.

How can you tell the difference between flu and an ordinary cold?

High temperature, headache, aches, shivers, fatigue, coughing and a general sensation of feeling unwell: flu symptoms are very similar to those of a cold. However, actual flu caused by the Influenza virus is characterised by a very sudden onset of symptoms and a high temperature (>38 °C).

With an ordinary cold, symptoms will appear little by little, are mainly respiratory (blocked nose, sneezing, coughing, conjunctivitis) and are milder.  Unlike the flu, complications are rare with the exception of infants and people with an immune deficiency.

How do you avoid infecting other people?

If you have not been vaccinated, the first thing is to go home as soon as you think you may be coming down with the flu, to avoid the risk of infecting other people! Apart from that, it is primarily hygiene measures that will limit the spread of the virus:

  • Stay at home and limit contact with other people, especially vulnerable people (babies and young children, pregnant women, the elderly, persons with an immune deficiency, etc.). Even shaking hands poses a risk!
  • Cover your mouth when you cough and/or your nose when you sneeze, even wear a surgical mask if you are surrounded by people who are at high risk. Droplets can be projected up to several metres away and therefore infect other people.
  • Use disposable paper handkerchiefs and dispose of them in a bin with a lid.
  • Wash your hands regularly and carefully for at least 15 seconds using soap and hot water. Have a hand towel reserved for your personal use.
  • Do not share objects that enter into contact with your mouth or hands.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated: viruses can survive for up to two days on hard surfaces. Think about furniture such as counters and tables, door handles, light switches, telephones and keyboards, bags, gloves, etc.
  • Air rooms on a daily basis: 3-4 times a day for 10 minutes

Have you thought about being vaccinated against seasonal flu? It is the best way of protecting yourself, particularly if you are a vulnerable person!

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