Every year when flu season rolls around, people start asking questions about the flu and the influenza virus and the discussion around whether or not to have a flu shot begins.
The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by one of the many different strains of the influenza virus. While the flu can last for many weeks, for most people the symptoms stop with 7-10 days. For others, the fever, coughing, muscle aches, and sore throat are only the beginning. Complications from the flu can be serious, and in some cases fatal. There are an average of 3,500 influenza deaths each year in Australia, and around 18,000 hospitalisations.
When it come to the flu, there are thousands of myths and facts; everyone has their own home remedy and their own preventative measures – so here’s what you need to know about the flu this winter.
The more you know about influenza and how the flu vaccine works, the easier it is to implement steps to protect yourself and those around you, both at work and at home.
Myths and facts about flu vaccinations
It’s important to be able to sort myth from fact when it comes to the flu, so you can make informed decisions about your health.
Myth: Getting the flu isn’t that different to catching the common cold, so a flu vaccine isn’t really important.
Fact: It is true that some of the symptoms of the flu are similar to cold symptoms, but the flu is much more serious. Getting the flu can make you feel as if you can barely move, let alone go to work and function normally. Fever, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue are typical signs and symptoms of the flu. Also, it’s important to remember that the common cold isn’t deadly, whereas in some circumstanced the flu can be.
Myth: Only people in at-risk populations are susceptible to the flu.
Fact: Even if you are a healthy, fit adult, you can still get very sick from the flu. While your chances of having serious complications are low, every year, perfectly healthy people die from the influenza virus. Also, by getting the flu vaccine, you can help to limit the spread of the flu, protecting high risk groups like young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.
Myth: I got the flu vaccine last year so I don’t need to be immunised this year.
Fact: Last year’s flu vaccine isn’t going to offer protection this season. Flu strains change every year so the strains you were immune to in the past aren’t likely to be the same strains that are making people sick this season. You need a yearly vaccination to help protect yourself from this year’s strains.
Myth: The flu vaccine is 100% effective so I don’t need to worry about other precautions once I’m immunised.
Fact: Whilst getting the flu vaccine offers a high degree of protection – for the 2018 flu season in Australia, people who were vaccinated were 68% less likely to visit the doctor for flu symptoms and 58% less likely to be hospitalised – it’s still important to practise healthy habits. The flu vaccine isn’t guaranteed to protect you against every flu strain. In fact, only four strains are included in each season’s vaccination. In Australia, health experts take the two most-likely-to-occur strains from both the Influenza A and the Influenza B categories and put those into the flu vaccine.
Simple things like regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, avoiding contact with others when you feel sick, and taking care of your health by getting plenty of rest, exercising, and drinking lots of water, can help to stop the spread of the flu as well as the common cold.
Myth: There are no long-term side effects from the flu.
Fact: Most people assume that once the immediate flu symptoms have cleared up, they’re back to normal. The reality is, having had the flu can increase your risk of other health problems for weeks post those initial symptoms. Medical experts recommend that people with heart problems or people that fall into the high risk categories outlined above should be particularly vigilant. There is a growing body of evidence linking the flu to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke in the days to weeks after diagnosis. Having the flu can also lead to the development of other infectious respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, which can lead to weeks of feeling unwell and the need for more doctor’s visits or even time in the hospital.
Book in for your 2019 flu vaccine
The best way to protect yourself and others from the virus is to get the flu vaccine. When more people are immunised, it’s less likely that the flu will spread through schools and workplaces, lowering the total number of people who fall ill. Book in for your vaccination before the season starts and stay healthy this year.