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Three Steps to Avoiding the Flu This Season

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Snowboarding. Football. The flu.

What do these three things have in common?

Simple: they’re all seasonal.

In Australia, the flu season runs from April to October – the cooler months of the year. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get the flu at other times. It just means that you’re probably more likely to reach for cold & flu tablets if you’re wearing a woollen jumper than if you’re wearing board shorts.

Just as some summers are more scorching than others, some flu seasons are more severe than others.

2019 was particularly bad. Ian Barr, a researcher at the World Health Organisation, called it a ‘once-in-every-10-year occurrence.’ He was right – sort of. It wasn’t just the worst flu season in ten years; it was Australia’s worst season ever. Over 300 000 people visited hospitals around the country for treatment.

Compare that to 2021. Less than 500 cases were reported. No, that’s not a typo: less than 500 cases. In other words, 2021 had 0.16% of the cases of 2019.

Why is that the case? The answer should be obvious. It’s not because a new brand of cold and flu tablets flooded the market – as fantastic as that would be! No – it’s because the precautions put in place to crush the coronavirus crushed the flu.

At least, for now.

The reality is, the flu is not going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, it is likely to raise its ugly head at some point soon. This is because the flu is not only seasonal, but it is also characterised by incredible variation between the seasons.

This means that it is important to stay prepared. How? Is it as simple as stocking up on cold & flu tablets? Not quite. Here are three guiding principles.

  1. Know the symptoms

From a distance, it’s easy to confuse a grapefruit for an orange. It’s similar to colds and flus. While colds can be caused by any one of over two hundred viruses and can be relatively minor in nature, the flu is a viral infection that is much more serve.

The NSW Department of Health identifies a range of flu symptoms, including:

  •       fever
  •       chills
  •       cough
  •       sore throat
  •       tiredness
  •       muscle aches[1]

Severe cases of the flu can lead to serious respiratory issues, trouble breathing, and even pneumonia.

While anyone can get the flu, some groups are particularly vulnerable. These include young children, pregnant women, those aged over 65, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people. You may also be at risk due to underlying health issues, chronic illnesses, or lifestyle factors that make you more susceptible to the flu. If you suspect that you fall into one of these categories, speak to your GP or trusted medical professional about the best preventative measures that you can take.

  1. See prevention as the best cure

 You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’. Believe it or not, you can trace this saying all the way back through the sands of time to Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch philosopher living around the 1500s (there’s a nice bit of knowledge of your next trivia night).

For the flu, this is absolutely the case. Here are the preventative steps that you can take:

  • Get the flu shot each year.

The best way to avoid catching the flu – and passing it on to others – is to get the influenza vaccine at the start of each winter. Why do you need a new one each year? It’s because the virus constantly mutates; an up-to-date vaccine provides up-to-date protection.

Because the flu loves to hitchhike from one person to the next, getting the vaccination is a great way to be kind to yourself and kind to others. For many people in Australia, the flu vaccine is also entirely free. Speak to your GP or a trusted health professional to book your flu shot today.

  • Eat healthily

There seems to be three common responses to the advice to maintain a balanced diary: a sense of guilt, a sense of apathy, or a sense of defeat. In some ways, that’s totally understandable – eating healthy is challenging.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s challenging because it’s good. Maintaining good gut health will bolster your immune system and ensure that you are equipped to fight off the virus.

  • Practise basic hygiene measures

If there’s one thing that COVID has taught us, it’s to be aware of basic personal hygiene measures. Small changes can yield enormous results. Consider sneezing and coughing into your elbow rather than into your hands; make a habit of this and build it into your routine.

Learn to wash your hands well. A quick spritz of warm water is not going to cut it. Educate yourself: a little learning goes a long way. It could be the difference between you contracting the virus and being bedridden, and you going about your day as fit as a fiddle.

  1. Take appropriate action against the virus when required

Of course, the best laid plans can go awry. You might do everything right – eat healthily, wash your hands well, know the symptoms – and still end up with a raging fever and uncomfortable dry cough. Now what?

  • Stay at home and get plenty of rest

You need a break. Seriously. And I don’t mean a I’m-having-a-break-but-I’m-still-on-my-emails break. Shut down your laptop, switch on Netflix, crack open the book that’s been beside your bed for months, and get plenty of sleep.

Doing this will do two things. Firstly, it will give your body time to recharge, refresh, and reset. Secondly, it will mean that you’re less likely to pass on the flu to others.

  • Keep your fluids up

It is easy to become dehydrated when you have the flu. It is important to be drinking an appropriate amount of water to avoid this, stay healthy, and put you on the right path to recovery.

  • Consider taking cold and flu tablets with paracetamol

Paracetamol products can be used to reduce your fever and help manage the pain of muscle aches. For this reason, many Australians take cold & flu tablets when they have the flu. Ensure that you use as directed on the label.

If your symptoms persist or become severe, speak to your GP or seek urgent medical assistance if you require it.

That’s all, folks

Well, that’s that! Know the symptoms, see prevention as the best cure, and take appropriate action against the virus when required.

Above all, stay healthy … and all the best!


[1] https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/Influenza/Pages/influenza-advice.aspx