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May 24, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Beating the flu

The day after I completed my Masters Degree at Victoria University I developed influenza (the flu). It wasn’t the way I planned to celebrate.

I was living with flatmates who were really nice, but they were not quite sure how to help look after me. Thankfully, a nursing friend appeared to care for me just like my own Florence Nightingale. This was a huge relief because I was basically incapable of looking after myself. She prepared soups and drinks, checked my temperature and gave me paracetamol to treat the fever and pain associated with the flu. I remember drifting in and out of sleep hoping that I would get better soon. It took over two weeks to recover.

While I was studying, I was also nursing at a health service in town. That Autumn I had been happily vaccinating patients who were at increased risk of complications from the flu, including people over 65 years of age and those with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. I thought I was young and healthy and I assumed my robust immune system and a positive outlook would protect me. I told myself that even if I did get the flu I would recover in record time, and I even consider that the experience would be a good challenge for my body. I was not alone with these beliefs, as many of the nurses and doctors I worked with in the 1990s did not have the flu vaccine. This has changed.

Looking back over my medical history I would have to rate the flu and chemotherapy, which I have also had, at a similar level. Now as soon as the flu vaccine arrives at Student Health, the staff start to vaccinate each other. Since I have had an annual flu vaccine I have not had the flu again.

Thanks to funding from VUWSA and flu vaccination clinics in the Residential Halls, on campus and at the Student Health Service, we have vaccinated over 2000 students. This is great because it is very hard to avoid the flu, considering people who have the flu are contagious a day before they develop symptoms. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu.

Steps you can take to prepare for flu season include stocking up on a few essential items, such as:

  • Tissues
  • Canned foods, including soups, fruit, juices and jelly
  • Paracetamol, which is cheaper on prescription from your doctor
  • Have your own thermometer
  • If you live away from home make sure your friends or flatmates have the contact details of your family
  • Know where to get information regarding the flu
  • Student Health Service: www.victoria.ac.nz/st_services/health/ Telephone 463 5308
  • Healthline on 0800 611 116, for 24-hour advice from a registered nurse
  • Ministry of Health website: www.moh.govt.nz/influenza-a-h1n1

What to do if someone does get the flu:

  • They should stay in their room to prevent spreading the infection to others. However, they need to be checked on frequently to make sure they have not developed any serious complications or other conditions such as meningitis.
  • Prevent dehydration by ensuring the person drinks at least 2L of fluid a day. Recommended fluids include diluted fruit juice and soft drinks, sport drinks and Lucozade. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these both make dehydration worse.
  • Normal body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius. Having a fever can feel terrible and is potentially dangerous. Treat fever with regular paracetamol (take one or two 500mg tablets every 4-6 hours. Maximum adult dose is eight tablets in 24 hours.

Seek medical advice if you notice any of the following:

  • Difficulty with, or noisy breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Coughing up bloody sputum.
  • Severe vomiting or vomiting that does not go away.
  • If symptoms are worsening rather than improving.

The vaccine is still available for free at the Student Health for students with ongoing health issues, such as people who have asthma and take a regular preventer inhaler, diabetes, people with a body mass index of 35 or greater, autoimmune conditions, or women who are pregnant. Otherwise there is an $18 charge.

Being fit and healthy will not protect you from the flu. Influenza is not just a bad cold, it can be serious and potentially fatal. Immunisation is your best protection and it helps to improve your body’s defence against influenza. For more information about the flu vaccine call, 0800 466 863, text “flu” to 515, visit www.fightflu.co.nz or contact Student Health.

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