Originally appeared on Australian Community Media, March, 2020
With flu season just around the corner now is the time to consider how to treat it and, more importantly, what you can do to prevent it.
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications, including pneumonia.
It is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.
Health authorities estimate that flu contributes to more than 3000 deaths in Australia each year.
The peak time for catching the flu is in the colder months – April to October – but you can get it any time of the year.
Dr Amandeep Hansra – a clinical consultant with HealthShare and a practising GP – says prevention is always going to be better than the cure when it comes to the influenza virus.
“The flu vaccination is particularly important and free for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over six months; people with a chronic medical condition; pregnant women and people over 65,” she said.
“However, the flu vaccination is recommended for all children over six months, all adults, especially women who are planning a pregnancy, those who work or live in aged care facilities, homeless people, childcare workers, people travelling overseas, those who work with chickens or pigs and healthcare workers.”
She said the best time to get your vaccination was around mid-April as it takes two to three weeks to develop an immunity after your flu shot and the best protection occurs three to four months after being vaccinated.
As far as symptoms are concerned you generally do not need to see a doctor if you simply have a cold.
“However, if you are experiencing more serious symptoms such as a fever, headache, shortness of breath, vomiting, persistent cough, chest pain, difficulty drinking fluids, marked tiredness or lack of energy, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light or anything else of concern, you should see your GP,” Dr Hansra said.
“You should also see your GP if you have a history of other medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart problems or a weakened immune system – sooner rather than later.”
Treat and stop the spread
Whether you have the flu or another kind of virus can only be confirmed by a doctor after a nose or throat swab has returned positive results.
A diagnosis is useful in helping health officials track disease patterns and frequency and will be required where complications have developed.
The flu is usually treated by relieving symptoms. And that means you need to get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and manage other symptoms with the appropriate medications.
Antibiotics do not treat a cold or a flu as they only work on bacterial infections and the flu is a virus.
To prevent the spread of flu you should wash your hands regularly with soap and water, cover your coughs and sneezes, throw your used tissues in a bin, avoid sharing eating utensils and stay at home if you feel unwell.