With COVID-19 attracting all the headlines, this year’s Influenza season has been somewhat forgotten.
While thanks to social distancing and improved hygiene, the number of reported Influenza cases is currently at a record low, it remains a significant risk, especially to those in vulnerable groups or age brackets. As life progressively returns to normal and we head into winter, the risk of contracting Influenza remains and expert medical advice is that everyone aged six months and over should be vaccinated against influenza this year, and every year, to protect themselves and others in the community.
Whilst flu vaccination does not prevent against COVID-19, a flu vaccination is critical to protecting the general health of Australians from influenza, which can take between 100 to 1,000 lives per year depending on the severity. Additionally this year, from 1 May 2020, all aged care workers and visitors must have been vaccinated against seasonal influenza to enter an aged care facility.
The National Immunisation Program provides free vaccines to those most at risk, including:
- pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy;
- all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older;
- people aged 65 years and older;
- people aged six months and older with certain medical risk factors; and
- for the first time, all children aged between six months and five years.
Influenza vaccines are also available through state and territory programs, and through private providers including GPs and community pharmacy.
This year it is even more important to be vigilant about the flu because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is not yet a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, vaccination continues to provide an effective defence against the flu.
Vaccinating against the flu will also reduce the risk of a very dangerous double-up of flu and coronavirus—both diseases affecting the respiratory system.
Vaccinated people of all ages are less likely to get the flu and if they do, are less likely to have a severe case. Fewer cases and fewer severe cases of flu will result in less demand on our health care system.
More information on the flu is available at https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-services/flu-influenza-immunisation-service.
In a manner similar to the advice being provided around COVID-19, there are five simple steps you can take to prevent the spread of this illness and protect your family from the flu.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent catching the flu. Vaccines are available for children over six months of age, through to adults and the elderly. Many workplaces offer the vaccine each year to their employees, and the National Immunisation Program offer free vaccines to ‘at risk’ groups, such as pregnant women, people aged over 65, and those with particular medical conditions. Find out more about the 2020 vaccine here.
In most states, the vaccine has already been distributed to GPs and experts suggest from early April is a good time to be vaccinated as it takes two weeks for your immunity to develop.
2. Stay home when you are sick
If you or a loved one comes down with the flu, the best remedy is to stay at home and rest. Not only does it allow your body to fight the infection, it also prevents the spread of the virus to other people. This is especially important while COVID-19 remains an additional threat.
3. Avoid face-to-face contact
The flu virus is spread by infected people coughing and sneezing, which spreads infected droplets into the air and onto surrounding objects. Droplets generally travel less than a metre, but the virus can survive for an hour or more in the air of a closed room. To avoid becoming infected, stay at least metre away from people with flu-like symptoms. If nursing a small child with the flu, hold them so they cough over your shoulder rather than into your face.
4. Wash your hands
As with all contagious illness, hand hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of flu. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if necessary. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as the virus enters your body this way. Read more about how washing your hands can keep illness at bay here.
5. Clean and disinfect
Remember to clean the commonly touched surfaces in your home and office, such as fridge door handles, toys, taps, tables, bathroom surfaces, bench tops and door handles. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for more than 8 hours. Surfaces can be cleaned with detergent and water or a household disinfectant.
Hopefully if you follow these key guidelines, you will be able to keep your family safe from the flu virus this winter.
Of course, when you are concerned about an illness you should always seek medical advice, this is especially true with babies and young children. Given the unprecedented situation with COVID-19, if you or someone in your family should become ill with cold or flu-like symptoms, you should contact your GP prior to visiting the practice. If it is at night or during the weekend, and your GP is closed, you can call 13SICK (that’s 13 7425) or use the 13SICK App to arrange a bulk billed*, after hours doctor home visit. Our Doctors treat all kinds of illnesses in the after hours, they carry starter packs of most commonly prescribed medications, so you can get started straight away if a prescription is required.
* if eligible for Medicare rebates
Dr Umberto Russo MBBS FRACGP is Chief Medical Officer at 13SICK, National Home Doctor. He has more than 30 years experience both as a General Practitioner and a visiting home doctor, with a special interest in urgent medical care.