Sick? It might not be flu
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London – Next time you call in sick with flu, don’t be surprised if your boss doesn’t seem to believe you.
Researchers say that the average adult has flu just twice every decade.
The findings come from researchers at Imperial College London who tested blood samples from 151 people for antibodies made against flu.
By testing for antibodies against nine strains of flu that had circulated at different times over a 30-year period, they were able to estimate how many times the men, women and children had caught the virus.
Children were the most vulnerable to the bug, catching flu around once every two years.
Doctors call young children ‘super-spreaders’ of flu because they come into contact physical with friends and don’t wash their hands as much as adults or cover their mouths when coughing. Very young children may also be more vulnerable to flu because they have yet to build up immunity to the various strains in circulation.
The number of times we catch flu falls through adolescence and early adulthood and by the time we are 30 or so we get flu only about twice a decade. For the rest of our adult life we continue to get flu only once every five years or so.
The researchers said that this makes flu ‘much less common that some people think’.
Dr Adam Kucharski said: ‘There’s a lot of debate in the field as to how often people get flu, as opposed to flu-like illness caused by something else. These symptoms can sometimes be caused by common cold viruses.’
Co-researcher Dr Steven Riley said people often simply misuse the word ‘flu’. He said: ‘People don’t mean flu when they say “flu”. What they mean is that they have a bad respiratory illness and there are quite a few of these around.’
Unsympathetic bosses should, however, take note: People who say they have flu may still be ill – even if they don’t have flu itself.
But the study failed to find evidence for man flu, with the frequency of infection similar for both genders.
It is hoped the research, published in the journal PLOS Biology, could lead to future vaccination programmes being more tailored to age.