8 Things You Need to Know About the Flu

by Joyce Chua
HEALTH  |  July 22, 2019
  • What’s the difference between a cold and flu and just how serious is the flu?
    1 / 9 What’s the difference between a cold and flu and just how serious is the flu?

    The month of May marks the start of the first flu season in Singapore. Flu, also known as influenza, is unpredictable and causes a significant burden globally each year, placing strain on healthcare systems and the economy.

    Public-health authorities consider seasonal flu to be a serious public health concern, not only causing severe illness and death, but also taking a considerable economic toll through lost workforce productivity and strained health services.

    Each year, Singapore’s annual seasonal influenza epidemics result in more than 520,000 outpatient visits, approximately 1,500 hospitalisations, 600 deaths, and 315,000 workdays lost, according to figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

    Dr Ong Kian Chung, respiratory medicine specialist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre shares some facts about the flu:

    All photos: Shutterstock

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  • Fact: It’s more serious than you think
    2 / 9 Fact: It’s more serious than you think

    (Also read: Yikes – You Can Catch The Flu & A Cold At The Same Time)

    Influenza is a serious, contagious infection that can lead to complications and it poses a serious threat worldwide.

    In Singapore, influenza viruses are prevalent year-round with two peak seasons usually between May to July and November to January.

    According to MOH, influenza-like illnesses account for about 800,000 attendances at polyclinics and around 80,000 patients with such illness are seen at emergency departments per year. During peak influenza seasons, up to 64 per cent of patients with influenza-like illness are tested positive for the influenza virus. Each year, it is estimated that influenza accounts for about 600 deaths here.

    Even in otherwise healthy people, the flu can lead to a wide range of severe and life-threatening complications. The sudden appearance of symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches tiredness, vomiting or diarrhoea could suggest an influenza infection.

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  • Fact: It’s different from a cold
    3 / 9 Fact: It’s different from a cold

    Due to the fact that both types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. But generally, the flu usually comes on suddenly and is much worse and more serious than a cold. And especially in high risk groups, the flu is more likely to lead to serious health problems and complications, such as pneumonia, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), kidney and respiratory failure.

    The common cold is a much less serious infection caused by viruses that are different from the influenza virus. Symptoms of cold are also less serious than those of the flu caused by influenza infection. While flu usually presents a sudden onset of high fever with chills, body aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness and headaches, you usually get milder respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and cough with a common cold.

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  • Fact: It’s contagious even before the symptoms start
    4 / 9 Fact: It’s contagious even before the symptoms start

    (Also read: 11 Signs to Tell If You’re Having A Cold Or Flu)

    Transmission of the flu virus occurs when droplets from an infected person are released during coughing and sneezing and you breathe in those droplets. It can also be spread indirectly when a person touches a recently contaminated surface such as doorknobs, train handles, and then touches his or her nose or mouth. (The flu virus can survive on hard surfaces for one to two days.) The onset of flu symptoms can happen rapidly, so it’s best to nip it in the bud ASAP or to exercise preventive measures (more on that below).

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  • Fact: Education and prevention are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones during the flu season
    5 / 9 Fact: Education and prevention are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones during the flu season

    Anyone can be infected by the influenza virus. That’s why the best way to stay protected is by recognising flu-like symptoms and going to the doctor early, avoiding close contact with people who have fever- and flu-like symptoms, and making sure that you have received the influenza vaccination against the most current strains of the virus. Starting antiviral medication against influenza early (within the first 48 hours of the symptoms showing) also helps to improve your chances of recovery.

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  • Myth: You can catch the flu from exposure to cold temperatures
    6 / 9 Myth: You can catch the flu from exposure to cold temperatures

    (Also read: Everyone, Especially Women, Needs a Flu Vaccine – Here’s Why)

    The only way you can catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Because flu symptoms are often mistaken for that of a common cold, people tend to associate the flu with a cold, draughty environment. But the fact is, the two are not related.

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  • Myth: Antibiotics can cure the flu
    7 / 9 Myth: Antibiotics can cure the flu

    Antibiotics only work against bacteria, but not viruses. Therefore, they won’t be able to cure a viral infection like the flu. However, there is a chance of developing a bacterial infection as a result of the flu because your immune system is breached, so it’s best to get your symptoms checked out, especially if they persist or worsen.

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  • Myth: “Feed a cold, starve a fever”
    8 / 9 Myth: “Feed a cold, starve a fever”

    (Also read: 6 Immunity-Boosting Foods To Avoid Catching The Flu)

    What you need when you have a cold (or the flu) and a fever is more fluids. Water not only keeps you hydrated, it also reduces congestion and stuffiness, as well as wash the viruses out of your system. There is no reason to starve yourself when you are sick. In fact, not feeding your body with nutritious food (even if you have no appetite) will only make it weaker and more susceptible to further viral or bacterial attacks.

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  • Myth: Chicken soup helps to speed up recovery from the flu
    9 / 9 Myth: Chicken soup helps to speed up recovery from the flu

    (Also read: 9 Foods to Help You Recover Faster From a Cold or Flu)

    Sure, warm liquids can help soothe a sore throat and rehydrate the body. And the effect of heat and steam from a piping hot bowl of chicken soup can also help to reduce nasal congestion. But chicken soup per se has no special qualities to fight the flu. You could drink a cup of hot green tea and it’ll probably have the same effect.

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