It’s the change of seasons that usually marks the commencement of the cold and flu season – and winter is upon us. By taking a few easy precautions and thinking about good nutrition and hygiene, we can lessen our chances of becoming a mobile germ dispenser and, in turn, shield the most vulnerable in our society.
Many people confuse flu with the common cold, but the former is far more severe and has potentially dangerous consequences. A cold will leave you feeling run-down and lethargic, with a runny or itchy nose, a sore or swollen throat, sinus pressure and a mild cough. Influenza is a virus that is highly communicable and seasonal, and is characterised by fever, muscle and joint aches, weakness and a nasty cough, as well as some or all of the cold symptoms. Around 3000 Australians die each year from complications relating to the flu virus, so it’s worth taking a few moments to reflect on what we can do for ourselves, and how we can protect those around us.
The Gift of the Jab – Get Immunised!
Though it’s true that immunologists and virologists can only create vaccines based on existing strains of influenza, the good news is that the current circulating strains in Australia are very close to the strains offered in the 2014 vaccine. That means that a flu shot this year offers close to 61% protection, compared to last year’s rate of 51%. This number mightn’t seem impressive when you stack it up against other vaccines, but a high uptake will increase the herd immunity and protect all of us a little better, particularly the physically vulnerable. Further cause for optimism is the report that Australian workers who receive their annual flu vaccination take nearly half the number of sick days for colds and flu compared with their unvaccinated colleagues. Considering a bout of the flu can knock you out of action for a full week, the loss in productivity is not insignificant.
Leading medical specialists and health advocates regularly advise the fragile and the immunocompromised that prevention is always preferable to cure. The elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women, and those with conditions such as heart or lung disease need to consider the effect a bout of flu might have on their overall health. Any lingering questions you have about flu vaccination can be answered by your GP or an accredited and recognised medical body, such as the Australian Medical Association.
Vitamin C – does it really work?
This answer is two-fold. Firstly, having adequate or high levels of vitamin C will not increase your natural immunity to influenza. As for colds, decades of inconsistent research has finally culminated in enough data to conclude vitamin C has only a very tiny effect on the duration of a cold, with a reduction of about 8%, and a little more in children. Sadly, trying to supplement once the virus has taken hold is futile, so it’s not really a cost-effective strategy. Interestingly, those undergoing endurance activities in extreme conditions, like marathon runners and alpine trekkers, benefit more obviously from higher doses of the vitamin. As a general rule of thumb, aim to be mindful of your nutrition at all times and regularly reach for bright, fresh foods that you’ve prepared yourself, particularly when you’re stressed and tired.
A Little Bit of Common Sense
If only it were more common. Sniffly, sneezy germ-carriers regularly spray their invisible pathogens with casual disregard, only to spread the illness to several other innocent bystanders. Public transport is especially renowned for its disease-transfer potential, but it can happen just about anywhere. Who hasn’t quietly seethed while droplets of spittle sail through the air from a completely unaware host? If you can’t keep your germs at home, and even if you’re feeling well, cover your mouth, wash your hands regularly and carry a handkerchief or a packet of tissues. A mini bottle of hand sanitiser is also extremely useful as a prevention tool when you’re out and about. Importantly, NEVER visit a frail or unwell person if you’re exhibiting any of the aforementioned cold or flu symptoms.
If you’re diagnosed with influenza by your treating doctor, you’re in for a tough old time. Since there’s few options to treat influenza, you’re likely to be advised to rest, stay warm, drink plenty of fluids and attempt to eat small, plain meals. An electrolyte replacement is a good idea if you’re vomiting or develop a stomach upset. If you do happen to develop some concerning symptoms such as uncontrollable shivering, shortness of breath, a rash, or severe neck pain, don’t take the chance – either arrange for an immediate home visit by a doctor or registered nurse, or get yourself down to your local emergency and accident department without delay. Always remember – flu can be fatal. To access the best healthcare for your needs, bypass the waiting list and compare health insurance policies for the perfect coverage. Take control and reduce your odds of being a flu casualty this winter.