Heading into the depths of winter, the common flu is going around, so keep your head down and try to stay healthy!
Winter wouldn’t be winter without the common flu or a more simple “cold” doing the rounds.
But two and a half years of the COVID pandemic and the associated lockdowns and laser focus on hygiene has had the positive effect of us avoiding the killer flu seasons we have seen in the past.
However, the easing of COVID restrictions and the effects of COVID hygiene fatigue has created a perfect storm for there to be a massive resurgence of the common flu in 2022.
The common flu warning goes out
Medical professionals have been warning for months that we were likely to see a resurgence of the common flu – or influenza – after a two-season hiatus.
As early as April, peak bodies such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Consumer Health Forum (CHF) and Diabetes Australia were urging Australians to prepare for the resurgence and to get vaccinated early.
This is because, in general, vaccination is most effective when it occurs before the flu season kicks in and there is more widespread illness.
Recommended for anyone over six months of age, and free for children under five and adults 65 and over, pregnant women, anyone with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples, getting an annual flu shot has become common practice for many in the community.
Making the situation more problematic was the continuing circulation of COVID, with the country still recording tens of thousands of cases a day, which some medical professionals believe could be only half of the actual cases currently in the community due to underreporting or confusing COVID symptoms with that of the flu or even the common cold.
Generally, a good quality test is the only way to tell the difference between COVID and the common flu given they share many of the same symptoms, the key difference being the loss of taste or smell that can come with COVID and the brain fog many seem to be reporting during and after infection.
If you start having some of the common symptoms of either – fever, a cough (generally dry with COVID), headaches, a sore throat, aches and pains – and are in doubt, it’s recommended to do a RAT to ensure it isn’t COVID due to the different protocols required between contracting COVID and the flu.
Can I avoid the flu?
Avoiding the flu isn’t impossible – while we do record several hundred thousand cases each season, with all manner of severity attached and sadly some associated deaths, the vast majority of Australians avoid the flu most years.
On the back of our COVID response, the resurgence of the flu this year can be managed by the same measures we took in 2020 and 2021 – mask wearing, social distancing and increased attention to hygiene, particularly the hands.
And, of course, getting the flu vaccination will act as both a deterrent to contracting it and reduce the symptoms if you do get the flu, so it’s definitely worth considering alongside your own personal circumstances.
It’s the flu – what do I do now?
No matter how careful you are, you still may pick up the flu. If you do, the best thing to do is stay home and get plenty of rest. Keep your fluids up and treat the aches and fever with over-the-counter medications if necessary.
Most importantly, speak to your GP about what might be best for you, especially if you have other health issues.
Other things that may help you get through the flu are hot showers to ease body aches and to help with a stuffy nose, using a humidifier, using saline nose drops or asking your GP for an antiviral if appropriate (and generally early on before the symptoms get too bad).
And there are potential natural remedies too, such as gargling slightly salty water, hot honey and lemon or herbal teas (hot drinks may help prevent hydration and soothe inflamed membranes), applying hot or cold packs for congested sinuses and sleeping with an extra pillow under your head to help with the drainage of nasal passages.
Bottom line: Always seek medical advice if you’re feeling unwell and especially if symptoms don’t improve.
This article is not to be construed as offering medical advice – please seek professional advice from a health professional or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 if you need more information.