Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory infection caused by three main flu viruses: influenza A, B and C. The symptoms of influenza C are much less severe than A and B and, therefore, less worrying. It’s the influenza A and B types that public health officials are most concerned about.
What we learned from last year is that we all should take precautions when it comes to the flu, says Associate Professor Lou Irving, head of respiratory medicine at Royal Melbourne Hospital. “We’ve got to see the flu season each year as an issue in the same way as we see bushfires as an issue each year.” It’s a good idea, then, to reacquaint yourself with some tried and tested preventative measures.
Public health physician and infectious diseases epidemiologist Dr Paul Van Buynder says: “If you eat well, exercise and lead a healthy life, even if you do get the flu, you won’t be as badly affected.” He also recommends good respiratory hygiene: wash your hands frequently in winter and dispose of your tissues in a safe way. If you or your children do get sick, stay home, rest and recuperate.
If you do get the flu, Irving recommends Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, which can reduce the duration and severity of the illness if taken within 48 hours of the onset of the infection. “Not everyone needs to take it, but if you’re in an institution or an aged care facility, you need to be treated if you get the flu in order to protect other people, as well as shorten your illness,” he says, adding the flu should only last a few days. “If someone is not improving after three or four days, there is a very significant risk that they’ve got one of the complications of the flu, such as bacterial pneumonia.”