Following unusually high levels of summer flu, this coming winter is set to continue the trend, with experts advising of the potential for one of the worst winter flu seasons Australia has ever experienced.
A record 27,000 flu cases have been recorded in Australia since the start of 2019, and the number of cases in NSW for the first three months of this year is more than double that for the same period in 2017 and 2018.
The flu virus is spread via tiny droplets of mucus that are coughed or sneezed into the air or transmitted via touch. Most people who get the flu recover without any lasting effects, but it can be extremely dangerous for some people, such as the elderly or those with a weakened immune system. Here are the best things you can do to avoid getting it this winter.
Get the flu vaccination
The easiest and most effective answer to avoiding the flu this winter is to get vaccinated. The Australian Medical Association is advising early vaccination (April – May) to ensure your body has time to develop immunity against the virus before winter, as it takes around two weeks for the vaccination to work. Vaccinations are quick and easy, and are available at your local medical centre, university doctor or pharmacy. The flu shot may have mild side effects in some people, however it cannot cause flu illness. If you have any questions about the vaccination, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor about it and discuss your options.
Whilst vaccination is an important first step, it is not 100% effective in some people, so there are other things you should be doing to keep healthy and avoid contracting the flu.
Wash and dry your hands
The flu is highly contagious, so good hygiene habits act as a line of defence against the virus. Wash your hands with soap, especially before and after eating and after shaking hands with others. Don’t forget to dry them properly as research has found that wet hands have a much higher chance of spreading bacteria.
It’s always a good idea to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag for when there are no taps available.
Look after your body and boost your immune system
Eat well. Your immune system is what protects you from contracting the flu. A healthy diet, high in vitamins and minerals, will help your body maintain a strong immune system. Try to ‘eat the rainbow’ by incorporating a variety of coloured fresh foods into your diet, combining plenty of different fruit, nuts and vegetables with healthy protein-rich foods such as legumes.
Drink plenty of water. It might seem like a lot, but most health authorities recommend drinking between 1-2 litres of water per day, which is roughly 6-8 glasses. Not only will it boost your immune system and keep you hydrated, water also increases energy and helps concentration.
Prioritise your sleep. While sleep requirements vary from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7-9 hours sleep per night to function at their best. Sufficient sleep will lead to optimal immune system functioning, helping to prevent viruses like the flu.
Exercise. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore a healthy immune system. Research has found that those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from the illness in the winter months.
Keep your distance from people who are sick
As the flu virus is spread through air and touch, you can catch the virus simply by being close to someone who is sick. There is no way to assess whether someone with a runny nose or cough has a cold or flu, so it’s best to keep your distance from anyone with flu-like symptoms. Additionally, it’s a good idea to clean any frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, keyboards and phones, to remove germs.
Avoid touching your nose and mouth
Simply touching a surface won’t make you sick, however spreading the germs from your hands to your nose and mouth will. Try to keep your hands away from your face to avoid transferring the infection.
If you are unlucky enough to contract the flu virus or even a common cold, make sure you cover your mouth and nose if you need to cough or sneeze, to avoid spreading the virus to others. Coughing and sneezing into your elbow, rather than your hands, helps to prevent the spread of germs. Put any used tissues in the bin immediately after use.
Know the symptoms and seek help
The main symptoms of flu are a sudden fever with a temperature of 38C or above, excessive fatigue, body aches and chills, dry cough, sore throat and a headache. If you experience any of these symptoms and think you might be suffering from flu, you will need to stay at home and rest.
If you feel unwell and you’re not sure what to do, remember that Sonder is here to help. Whether it’s via the Sonder app, over the phone, or in person with one of our Liaison Officers, we provide 24/7 local support and assistance to support your safety and wellbeing.