After the past few years, you would be forgiven for thinking that COVID-19 is the only virus that exists. But our little friend influenza, who has been on two-year hiatus (why was it allowed a holiday and I wasn’t?!) is back with a vengeance. And our fear, it might team up with it’s little buddy COVID, and result in the ultimate power couple – “flurona”.
So, how can you protect yourself? You guessed it – vaccination.
First things first, lets look at why influenza is such a big deal.
Contrary to popular belief, the flu is not just a head cold. It is more than a runny nose and tickly throat. Influenza, particularly for vulnerable people, has the potential to be very serious.
In 2019, one of Australia’s worst flu seasons on record, there were over 300,000 confirmed cases of influenza, over 4000 hospitalisations and over 900 deaths.
If you add those numbers to the already stubbornly high COVID case numbers, well you can see we have a problem.
In addition to that, 2022 has the potential to be even worse as, with the international borders opening up new influenza strains will enter Australia and, with minimal exposure over the past two years, people’s natural immunity will have waned.
The good news is we have a tried, tested and very effective method of protection - the annual flu vaccine. Similar to the covid vaccine, the flu vaccine might not stop you getting the flu all together, but it greatly reduces your risk of severe illness and hospitalisation.
So lets look at the basics.
Who should get it?
The annual influenza immunisation is strongly recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older. In particular, it very strongly recommended for people who most vulnerable to severe illness if they get the flu: children under 5, people over 65, pregnant women or people with a chronic health issue such as asthma, diabetes etc. In fact, if you fall into one of these categories, to flu vaccine is free for you. For everyone else, you can pick up a vaccine from a pharmacy or your GP for about $25.
When should you get the vaccine?
Peak flu season in Australia is usually from June through to September. Most people will develop immunity within 14 days of vaccination, and the vaccine provides peak protection for the first 3-4 months thereafter. With this in mind we usually recommend having your vaccination in April. In saying this, any protection is better than none, so it is never too late to get vaccinated.
Will it give me the flu?
Short answer, no. Similar to the COVID vaccination, it is not uncommon to have some mild side effects in the 48 hours after the vaccination. The most common include a sore arm or lump at the injection site, mild headache, body aches and pains and low grade fever. These usually appear within 24 hours of the vaccination and are gone by the 72 hour mark.
So if you want to arm yourself with the best protection this flu season, speak to your health provider about the annual flu vaccine.