A month ago the children were sent home with a letter from the Health Protection Agency declaring a Seasonal Flu Alert for schools. The note described how Thames Valley Health Protection Unit had received reports of Influenza B. Shortly afterwards Influenza B swept across the south of the country. To the north Influenza A took hold.
Potential viral pandemics like bird flu, which is largely carried by poultry and aquatic birds such as geese, or norovirus, is monitored by a network of GP’s and surgeries who take swabs and send them off to a laboratory for analysis. This enables accurate and rapid diagnosis which is not only key to treatment, but also alerts GP’s who can in turn make the correct diagnosis and educate the public on how to take precautions against contracting a virus.
There was a clever thought process behind the letter sent to my children. Research shows that endemics often start with children. With their constant nose picking, thumb sucking, close social interaction and tendency to hand wash infrequently it’s very easy for a virus to spread from child to child, then from a child to family members. … and so the virus ripples into communities and businesses.
December and January are the peak season for flu, although there can be slight seasonal variation. This year the flu season arrived later than the norm. Those most at risk are the elderly, those who have a weakened immune system and the young.
Children under two are at risk from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies. RSV is the single most important cause of severe respiratory illness in infants and young children worldwide. Lower respiratory tract infections (e.g., bronchiolitis, pneumonia) are more common in children younger than two years, whereas upper respiratory tract infections tend to affect older children and young adults. At the peak 750 new cases were reported in children under one every week in the UK.
This winter norovirus has been affecting more people than usual. This particularly nasty virus infects the small intestine and creates sickness and diarrea. There is no dry heaving and projectile vomiting, with often no warning or opportunity to reach a place of safety. A litre of vomit can contain over a billion particles and can spread three meters forward and sideways.
Viewers who watched last night’s BBC television documentary Winter Viruses and How to Beat Them will have witnessed Vomiting Larry, a simulated vomiting system, in at a Health & Safety Laboratory in Derbyshire.
Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, has been responsible for an estimated 880,000 illnesses since last summer and is highly contagious. Contact with just a few of the particles can lead to the illness. Norovirus is one of the few infections you really can catch from a toilet seat, or even from the air in the bathroom if an infected person has just flushed the lavatory. It can survive for 12 days on a carpet and is very hard to clean as the particles spread far and wide and can be inhaled. Using alcohol based sanitisers won’t kill the virus either.
You can help to contain a virus by staying at home if you are sick, hand washing frequently and thoroughly and covering your face if you cough or sneeze. Sanitising surfaces will also be effective at killing germs.