How To Prepare For Flu Season

how to prepare for flu season

What are the common symptoms of flu? What medicine can you take to ease these symptoms? Find out everything about the flu from symptoms, medication to vaccinations you can get.

Flu season is almost upon us. With the COVID-19 pandemic as a constant in our lives for the past two years, many people may feel as though the flu is no longer something to worry about. In Australia, this may seem even more like the case with the record low number of influenza cases these past two years. However, these people would be wrong.

While the coronavirus is more likely to reach the spotlight, the flu is still something that should be avoided. It is a virus that can knock you off your feet and become deadly for certain individuals. So, for those who want to make it out of flu unscathed, keep reading to see what should be done to prepare for flu season.

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?

When it comes to the flu, one of the most important things you can do is be aware of its symptoms. Recognizing the symptoms of the flu means that you can recognize when you are sick and need to limit exposure to others, and when others are sick and you should avoid their company for the time being.

The flu may manifest differently depending on the person infected, but some of the most common symptoms of the flu include:

  • high fever (38ºC or higher) that appears suddenly
  • a dry cough
  • feeling extremely tired and weak
  • body aches (primarily in the head, legs, and lower back)

While the above are the most common symptoms, additional symptoms that those with the flu may have include:

  • aching pain behind the eyes
  • chills
  • loss of appetite
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • sore throat

Do Cold and Flu Tablets Work?

While cold and flu tablets are not going to do anything in regards to eradicating the virus causing your illness, they can help ease the symptoms you are experiencing.

However, instead of taking an all-in-one flu tablet that may contain medicine that you do not need, the best thing to do is get each medicine on its own; that way, you’re taking medicine only for the symptoms you have. If you do choose an all-inclusive tablet, the best cold and flu tablets will be the ones that only contain medicine for the symptoms you have.

There are certain ingredients to look for, based on what your symptoms are:

Pseudoephedrine

Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that can help ease a runny nose. It tightens up the blood vessels in the nose, which prevents fluid from leaking out and clearing up blockages in the sinuses.

However, be careful when using this medicine as, when it wears off, it may result in an even worse blocked nose as the blood vessels rebound to their dilated state.

Phenylephrine

Yet another type of decongestant, but phenylephrine is not as effective as pseudoephedrine.

Ibuprofen and Paracetamol

Both of these ingredients are pain relievers that can help ease inflammation in the body. This can help with body aches and sore throats. Paracetamol can also help to reduce a fever.

What Are the Complications of the Flu?

The flu can become quite severe in some individuals, causing adverse complications that can include bronchitis and pneumonia. These complications can become so severe that hospitalization and even death may occur for some individuals.

Those at an increased risk of developing complications from the flu include:

  • people over the age of 65
  • pregnant women
  • children under the age of 5
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • individuals with chronic medical conditions

How Many People Die from the Flu?

In 2019 there were 313,033 confirmed influenza cases and 953 deaths, rates that were hitting an all-time high. However, these numbers have dropped significantly with the rise of COVID-19, with only 37 deaths related to the flu in 2020, according to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS).

These low numbers can primarily be attributed to the country-wide health measures put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What is the Flu Shot?

Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the flu. The flu shot involves injection directly into the muscle, a critical vaccination location because of its rich blood supply. By injecting the vaccine into the muscle, it can be ensured that the vaccine will quickly enter your bloodstream and spread the protective properties throughout the body.

Get the flu shot

What Is in the Flu Vaccine?

There are two types of vaccines available in Australia, split virion and subunit vaccines. Both of these vaccine types are prepared using purified inactivated influenza virus, which has been cultivated in embryonated hens’ eggs (standard influenza vaccines and adjuvanted influenza vaccine) or propagated in Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells (cell-based influenza vaccine).

All vaccines contain four strains of the influenza virus:

  • 2 influenza A subtypes
  • 2 influenza B lineages

The vaccines contain 15 µg of haemagglutinin per strain per dose. Some vaccines contain no adjuvant, while others use MF59 as the adjuvant. The adjuvanted influenza vaccine was created to induce a greater immune response.

The vaccines may also contain trace amounts of the following compounds:

  • formaldehyde
  • cetrimonium bromide
  • sodium citrate
  • sucrose
  • gentamicin sulfate
  • octoxinol-9
  • neomycin

How Long Does the Flu Shot Last?

The flu shot will offer protection against the flu for about six months, which is why it is recommended to receive a vaccination every year. The vaccine offers the best protection against influenza within the first 3 to 4 months after receiving the vaccine. With flu season lasting from June to September and peak season being in August, receiving the vaccine in April or May ensures that you are protected before peak season occurs.

Can I be Forced to Have the Flu Vaccine?

There are certain cases where you may be required to receive the flu vaccine.

For example, there are currently restrictions on individuals entering residential aged care facilities that require an up-to-date flu vaccine. For those who live in these areas of work in these facilities, vaccination is required.

Yet another example lies in jobs where receiving the flu shot is a condition of employment. This is most commonly observed in certain industries, such as the health services sector, residential aged care, and child care. If a flu vaccine is a condition of employment, it must clearly be stated in the contract along with a clear justification or explanation of the purpose behind the requirement.

Is Coronavirus a Cold or Flu?

Coronavirus is neither a cold nor the flu, but it does have similar origins. Like the cold or flu, COVID-19 infection results from infiltration by a type of virus, namely the SARS-CoV-2 virus, more commonly known as coronavirus. In comparison, the flu is caused by infection of the influenza virus and a cold results from rhinovirus infection.

So, while all these conditions result from infection by a virus, the specific viruses that infect the body determine which illness someone is diagnosed with.

However, while different viruses cause these illnesses, they do result in similar symptoms. Specifically, the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 can be similar, with both illnesses potentially causing:

  • fever
  • chills or sweats
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose

Symptoms specific to COVID-19 include shortness of breath and loss or change in the sense of taste or smell.

Use a Covid-19 rapid antigen test

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Where To Get a Flu Shot?

There are several places where you can receive your flu vaccine, including your general practitioner, workplaces, local council or community health clinics, Aboriginal Medical Services, or school-based immunisation programs.

The above are the most common locations to receive a flu shot. Still, you may also be able to receive it at public hospitals, travel medical clinics, aged care facilities, pharmacies, and staff occupational health clinics.

However, while there are many places where you can receive a flu shot, not all of them can provide them for free, so it is wise to check with your preferred vaccination provider ahead of time to determine if the cost is covered.

Key Takeaways

As we enter flu season, it is essential to understand all the steps that can be taken to prepare for it and ensure that you make it out healthy. First and foremost, it is crucial to be aware of the flu symptoms so that you can play an important role in preventing the spread if you or someone you know starts presenting with symptoms.

One of the best shields against the flu is the flu vaccine, a single shot containing inactivated versions of four influenza virus strains. The flu shot’s benefits only last 6 months, so receiving a flu vaccine every year is recommended. To ensure protection during peak flu season, it is recommended to receive your vaccine in April or May.

While it originates from a virus like the flu, coronavirus is due to a different type of virus. So, while these two illnesses may present with similar symptoms, some differences may be present. In addition, the coronavirus vaccine will not protect you from the flu, so receiving a flu shot is important to protect against the flu.

There are numerous places to receive a flu shot, and the most important way to prepare for the flu season is by implementing proper medication delivery. So, acquire your flu shot to protect your body from infection, and stock up on individual medicines to fight any symptoms that may pop up if you become infected.

  • Dr Ganesh Naidoo
  • About the Author

    Dr Ganesh Naidoo BSc(biomed), MBBS, FRACGP is an Australian General Practitioner. He has significant clinical experience in multiple regions of Australia and has a passion for health transformation to improve clinical outcomes for all patients.

References

[1] https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/7610377A5BEB1D25CA25874B007D9DD2/$File/2019-Influenza-Season-Summary.pdf

[2] https://www.health.qld.gov.au/clinical-practice/guidelines-procedures/diseases-infection/immunisation/service-providers/influenza

[3] https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/about-immunisation/where-can-i-get-immunised

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