Every winter, flu affects the region to one degree or another. It’s nasty and unpleasant for most but outright dangerous for others; especially the elderly or very young. This week it started to arrive with a vengeance in hospitals between the Tyne and the Tweed – indicating a much wider outbreak in the community.
“The worst thing about this bug is how easy it is to spread,” said Dr Jeremy Rushmer, medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. “A single unguarded sneeze, unwashed hands or an infected desk surface can all do the job.
“The best idea is to take sensible precautions: get vaccinated, wash your hands regularly and disinfect surfaces you come into contact with. If you are caring for a loved one who is sick or vulnerable then these apply even more – especially around food and drink."
Advice has been given urging people to take sensible precautions and stay away from hospitals if they have symptoms.
What to do: stay home, stay warm and stay hydrated
Flu is very unpleasant and can make you feel very unwell, however, the vast majority of people who have flu make a full recovery.
You are most infectious – that is, able to pass flu on to others – while you have symptoms, usually for five or six days. Children and people with weaker immune systems, such as cancer patients, may remain infectious for longer.
“Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you may have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better,” said Helen Lamont, director of nursing and patient services at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“There is usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms. The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (becoming too dry). You may want to take simple medication such as paracetamol to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.
“For some people flu can be more serious and you may be more likely to develop severe flu or a serious complication such as a chest infection or pneumonia. If you feel you need medical advice then dial 111, see your pharmacist or make an appointment with your GP.”
Help your NHS – don’t put others at risk
With the NHS, and the ambulance service in particular, under massive strain due to winter pressures – and in some areas norovirus – the spread of flu has the potential to seriously harm its ability to function.
“If you are symptomatic (of flu) the main thing is to stay away from hospital unless you are in immediate need of urgent, critical care – and the odds are that won’t be from flu,” continued Dr Rushmer. “If you do come into hospital you are putting yourself, your loved ones, our staff and other patients at risk so please only do it as a last resort. Just think: how would you like it if someone made your vulnerable grandparents sick when they shouldn’t have been there in the first place?
“The NHS will always be here for you when you need us but we need your help to relieve the pressure on our hard-pressed doctors and nurses – after all, they get sick too!”
Flu facts: for more information about how to avoid getting the flu and what to do if you do, see the NHS advice.