Does hand hygiene really help? Facts to help you avoid the flu


Can you unwittingly spread the flu? Will being OCD about clean surfaces help? Here are four flu facts to help you be more mindful about avoiding and preventing the spread of flu this year.

The best way to boost your immunity against this year's flu virus (or at least shield it from the worst complications) is to head to your nearest clinic, GP or pharmacy for a flu shot in March or April.

This is according to Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery. Getting a flu shot early will give your body enough time (it takes about two weeks) to develop the right virus-fighting antibodies before the flu season really gets going. And in the meanwhile, here are some important facts to help prepare you for this year's reportedly severe flu virus:

#Fact 1: Some people are more at risk of developing complications than others

Some people's immune systems are more vulnerable to disease, which makes them more at risk of developing dangerous complications associated with the flu. The following people need to be especially careful and should prioritise getting a flu shot:

  • Pregnant women, and including mothers in the two-week period after delivery
  • Babies and infants under 2 years old
  • Elderly people over the age of 65 years
  • People with existing chronic diseases that affect their heart, lung, kidney or endocrine system, such those with as diabetes, asthma, or diseases that affect your immune system (such as HIV and AIDS)
  • Morbidly obese people, that is, those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) equal or over 40, or other with a BMI?35 who have obesity-related health conditions
  • People who are 18 years old or younger who receive chronic aspirin therapy

#Fact 2: You can be contagious before and after you feel any flu symptoms

People with flu can pass the virus on to someone else before they even know that they're sick, as well as while they're sick. A person with flu may be contagious 1 day before symptoms appear, and for 3 to 7 days after the onset of symptoms. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, may be able to infect others for an even longer time.

#Fact 3: Most flu treatment just entails symptom relief and rest

You may feel awful, but unfortunately, if you've caught the flu, there's not usually much you can do besides wait it out! Most of the treatment is generic, and involves symptom relief, unless you are very sick or fall into one of the high-risk categories.

If you're a high-risk patient, you need to see a doctor as you may need to take antiviral medication. Antiviral agents such as Tamiflu are recommended for people at risk of complications.

For uncomplicated cases, that is - if you are generally healthy and don't fall into any of the high-risk categories, then follow these measures:

  • Get bed rest and sleep.
  • Drink plenty of water and other clear fluid.
  • Antiviral agents aren't generally prescribed as a preventative measure, but you can take medication to treat symptoms like cough, fever and nasal congestion.

#Fact 4: Covering your mouth and good hand hygiene really can help prevent the spread of flu

It's clear that it's better to avoid catching the flu in the first place. The flu virus is mainly spread through droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of others close by. You can also catch flu by touching a surface or an object that has flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

To help prevent the spread of flu, infected people should:

  1. Stay at home and try to limit contact with other people
  2. Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw away used tissue in bin.
  3. Wash their hands often with soap or use an alcohol based hand rub, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

It's also helpful to clean and disinfect any surfaces that are commonly touched.

#Fact 5: Many medical aids cover flu shots

Remember that you may be able to claim for taking preventive health measures from your medical aid.

"Depending on your health plan, Discovery Health Medical Scheme provides cover for flu injections from available funds in your day-to-day benefits, where applicable," says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery. "And high-risk members who have registered a chronic condition may even get cover from their Screening and Prevention benefit, because they're taking steps to prevent complications." Learn more about the clinical entry criteria and screening and prevention benefits here.

So being mindful about preventing the spread of flu this season:


Feeling under the weather? Save on meds with Vitality HealthyCare

From headache tablets to nose sprays and saline rinses - whatever home remedies work to soothe your symptoms, save when you buy them with the Vitality HealthyCare benefit. This benefit offers you up to 25% cash back on preventive care and everyday personal and family care items at Clicks or Dis-Chem.

The HealthyCare range includes hundreds of products for chronic care, dental care, eye care, first aid supplies and much more. Activate this handy benefit or join Discovery Vitality today!

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.


Related articles


A fierce flu season is expected: immunising early is the best defence

One of the best ways to be mindful of your own and others' health this March is to protect against, and prevent the spread of, the frighteningly contagious influenza virus. Here's why getting immunised early offers you the best defence.


Will vitamins really help to keep winter ills at bay?

If you feel the sniffles starting, do you stock up on grapefruit, gulp down a few vitamin C supplements and hope it goes away? An expert on mindful eating shares why that approach may (or may not) work.


Feeling the flu? Why and when to taper back on training

Feeling under the weather? There's a reason doctors always prescribe rest when you're ill. Here's how to be mindful of your body's needs, plus an easy way to earn 1 000 Vitality points for keeping the flu at bay with a flu vaccination.

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id