Contagion and vaccination: what you need to know about the flu


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What is the typical time for a flu epidemic? How much protection does a flu vaccination offer? How is the contagion transmitted? Here is the most important information.

Every year the flu hits a lot of people. In this article we answer the most important questions about influenza.


What is the difference between influenza (“Real” flu) and a flu-like infection (“cold”)?

In the case of a flu-like infection, viruses (over 200 different) than influenza viruses play a role. You cannot vaccinate against a “cold”. Important! The influenza vaccination does not protect against flu-like infections caused by other viruses.

Frequently Asked Questions about the flu

1. When do flu waves occur?

Flu waves usually start in January of each year and last three to four months.

2. Why do flu waves occur in the winter months?

There are various assumptions about this: Influenza viruses are more stable at low temperatures and in dry air outside their host structures (human respiratory mucosa). It is also assumed that the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory tract is more susceptible to infection in dry air and that the immune system is less powerful in winter than in summer. Another factor could be that you spend long periods of time with other people in poorly ventilated rooms in winter.

3. How many people does it get?

It is estimated that five to 20 percent of the population are infected during the annual flu epidemic. The strength of the flu waves fluctuates significantly from year to year and is unpredictable.

4. Flu infection: how do you get infected?

Influenza viruses are mainly transmitted by droplets that have a particle size of more than five micrometers, especially when coughing or sneezing, and which can reach the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract of contact persons over a short distance. There is also evidence of airborne transmission through droplet nuclei, which are even smaller, also occur during normal breathing or speaking and can float longer in the air. In addition, transmission is also possible through direct contact of the hands with surfaces that are contaminated with virus-containing secretions and subsequent hand-mouth and hand-nose contact – for example by shaking hands.

The most important facts

  • The flu is not a harmless cold, it is a serious illness!
  • Influenza spreads very quickly! Even when sneezing or coughing!
  • The flu brings serious health problems!
  • No antibiotic can help against influenza viruses!
  • You can not prevent flu with a healthy diet!
  • The best protection against influenza is a vaccination!

At the first signs of flu: see a doctor immediately!

5. Does a flu vaccination offer safe protection?

No vaccine provides 100 percent protection. In recent years, an average of 40 to 60 out of 100 vaccinated people have been protected during examinations. In particular, people with weaker immune systems, such as the elderly, respond less well to the vaccination.

6. How long is the incubation period?

The incubation period, i.e. the time between infection and the onset of disease symptoms, is short in influenza and averages one to two days.

7. How long does the contagion last?

The duration of the infectiousness, i.e. the excretion of viruses capable of replication, is on average around four to five days after the onset of the first symptoms, but it is also possible before the onset of symptoms. A longer duration occurs especially in children.

8. What is the difference between colds and real flu (influenza)?

A cold, often referred to as a “flu-like infection”, has nothing to do with real flu. Both diseases are caused by different pathogens. The flu is caused by influenza viruses. Typical is a sudden onset of illness with fever or a clear feeling of illness, combined with muscle and / or headache and irritable cough. Influenza can lead to complications such as pneumonia, and then even be fatal, especially in the elderly, chronically ill and pregnant women.


How to protect yourself from the flu

In the past week, the Robert Koch Institute reported over 23,000 cases of flu. A subsidence of the wave is not yet in sight. It is all the more important to protect yourself.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu ?

A flu-like infection, as a cold is also called, has nothing to do with real flu. Both are caused by different pathogens. Flu is triggered by influenza viruses, colds are caused by more than 30 different pathogens, such as rhino and corona viruses. The symptoms of a cold include a sore throat, runny nose and cough, and more rarely a high temperature or fever.

How does a viral flu express itself?

In contrast to a normal respiratory illness, which is usually overcome after a few days, the virus flu strikes quickly and violently. Symptoms are usually a sudden high fever over 39 degrees Celsius, chills, muscle aches, sweats, general weakness, headache and sore throat, runny nose and dry cough. However, not every infected person also becomes ill.


How can I protect myself?

Elderly and chronically ill people in particular should be vaccinated against influenza. But hand washing is also an effective protection against infections. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day. It is also advisable to keep your hands away from your face and avoid shaking hands. Alternating showers and saunas harden the body.

Which cold and flu remedies help?

There are drugs against influenza viruses that can at best slightly shorten the duration of the illness. As a rule, however, the only thing that helps is resting and waiting. There are of course a number of remedies that can relieve discomfort, including pain relievers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, and nasal decongestant sprays. Antibiotics do not help against cold viruses, but are at most useful if there is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract.

Why is caution advised with cold sprays?

If certain decongestant nasal drops or sprays are used for longer than five to seven days in a row, the nasal mucosa will become permanently swollen. A so-called drug-related runny nose develops, which then often results in months or years of use of the remedies. Patients become downright addicted. In the long run, this will destroy the function of the nasal mucous membrane.

How safe is the flu vaccination?

The vaccination is well tolerated. There may be temporary local reactions, e.g. B. Pain at the injection site. Local reactions occur more frequently when vaccinated with the high-dose vaccine, which is recommended for people aged 60 and over. They usually subside after a day or two without consequences. Heaviness and irreversible side effects are very rare. Since it is not possible to cause infectious diseases through dead vaccines, the influenza vaccination can do not trigger the flu!

How effective is the flue vaccination?

The best protection available against influenza is vaccination. The effectiveness can vary from year to year. When viruses are circulating change, the protective effect can also change over the course of the season.

Several factors are responsible for the effectiveness of the vaccine (e.g. vaccine type, antigen match, virus change compared to the previous season, pre-existing residual immunity, age). A protective effect of up to 80 percent was observed in young adults and between 40 to 60 percent in older people.

For people aged 60 and over, a high-dose vaccine is recommended, which was slightly but significantly more effective in this age group

What are the contraindications to vaccination?

  • febrile illness (≥ 38.5 ° C)
  • acute infection
  • Chicken protein allergy
  • People who react only slightly to the consumption of egg white can be vaccinated without special supervision. In the case of more severe allergies, the indication should be carefully considered and only under intensive medical intervention readiness be vaccinated. A chicken protein-free, influenza vaccine that is suitable for allergy sufferers is now also available.
  • The live vaccine (nasal spray), which is approved for children and adolescents, has the following restrictions on use: severe asthma, Immunodeficiency, salicylate therapy.
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