Body

This could be the worst flu season on record

An early spike in reported cases of the influenza virus point to this being the worst flu season on record.

By Holly Royce
In case you hadn't noticed yet, cold and flu season is upon us, and initial reports are predicting this could be the worst one on record.
Half-yearly figures of flu cases around Australia have been published, and it's been found that there is a 70% increase from last year, a very alarming figure by anyone's standards.
There has never been a better time to rush out and get that flu shot.
While there is usually a peak in influenza cases noted around July-August, Bond University medical expert Professor Chris Del Mar told New Daily the worst could still be yet to come.
“It’s irregular timing … a spike in influenza doesn’t normally occur in June. From mid-July to August is most common. A spike in winter is routine [but not as early as June]. Expect a fair few more people to come down with the flu if that’s the case.”
As always, prevention is the best strategy.
Here's what you need to know
One of the reasons the flu is so difficult to prepare for is because it is a constantly changing virus.
When we use the word strain what we're describing is flu viruses that are antigenically (meaning to induce a specific immune response and reacting with the products in accordance with that response) different.
There are so many chemical combinations that could bond together to create varying influenza viruses, all antigenically different from one another that the exact number of 'strains of flu' is in the thousands - and that's just looking at humans strains, not swine or other animal based influenza viruses.
Another way to tell the difference between flu virus is by their flu subtype.
Ian York, Virologist, immunologist and biologist explained that the two subtypes of flu, "are be defined by the hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) proteins on their surface because these are the dominant proteins in the immune response to flu."
Each year, experts asses what mutation of the flu are circulating and/or predicted to circulate and direct vaccination advise accordingly.

2017 Seasonal Influenza Strains

This year Nurse Practitioner Clinics Australia have released the following information:
"The recommended composition of quadrivalent influenza vaccine for Australia in 2017 introduces a new A (H1N1)pdm09 like virus strain when compared to the composition of the trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines for Australia in 2016."
"In 2017 there will only be Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccines available in Australia. This will be the first time that the Trivalent Vaccine will not be available to the Australian market (either public or private)"
The quadrivalent influenza vaccine components for the Australian 2017 influenza season will contain the following:
  • An A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09 - like virus
  • An A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2) - like virus
  • A B/Brisbane/60/2008 - like virus (belonging to the Victoria lineage)
  • A B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus

How to keep winter bugs at bay

Protect yourself
Avoid exposing yourself to sick people wherever possible and let your friends and family know not to visit you if anyone is sick, particularly with flu symptoms.
An etiquette known as "social distancing" became popular during the swine flu pandemic last year. It involves keeping your distance from other people, no cheek-kissing or shaking hands in greeting. It might make you look unfriendly but it is far friendlier than sharing a dose of the flu.
If your child is sick, keep them away from preschool or school so that other children will not have to go through it, too. Stay home from work so you don't spread the infection around the office.
Respiratory viruses can last for days on surfaces, so if you touch a surface that harbours the virus, then put your finger in your nose or rub your eyes, you will infect yourself. So keep your fingers out of your nose.
Avoid sharing personal items such as cutlery, cups, plates, toothbrushes and towels, and wash your hands regularly during the day.
Tissues are meant to be used once and thrown away …and forget hankies. Viruses like colds and influenza can survive for hours or even days on a tissue or hankie.
When you know you are about to sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue to reduce the amount of virus you spray around the room.
Although smokers have the same number of colds per year as non-smokers, smokers tend to be sick for twice as long and suffer more complications like sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. Children exposed to tobacco smoke will also have more chest infections and middle-ear infections.
Vaccines
Flu news came early this year with the pandemic of swine flu sending public health experts and governments around the world into action to limit its spread.
If you have ever had the flu, you will know how miserable it can make you feel with the cough, the fever, and the aches and pains. It is more than just a bad cold.
The flu vaccine consists of both seasonal flu and swine flu (H1N1). People at high risk need to consider it a high priority. The fewer people in the community who get the flu, the less chance there is of people at high risk contracting it, and the less disruption there is to family and work life. Even if you are "healthy", influenza is a serious disease that puts you out of action for a week or more. If you do catch the flu, antiviral medications are available.
Another bug which causes concern, particularly in winter, is pneumococcus, one of the bacteria which causes pneumonia. It is also a common cause of middle-ear infections and meningitis. There are many different types of pneumococcus, and there is a vaccine to protect against 23 of the most common types.
Treating colds and flu
Most winter bugs can be managed at home and if you take it easy for a few days, the average cold will pass in about a week with rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
Over-the-counter cold and flu preparations help to reduce fever and relieve discomfort but do little more than that.
Many natural therapies are popular and include vitamin C and zinc and the herbs echinacea, andrographis and goldenseal.
You need to go to a doctor when:
  • A sore throat persists for more than a couple of days, or gets worse. This could be tonsillitis.
  • You have thick green, yellow or blood-streaked discharge from the nose.
  • You have earache.
  • You feel pain in the face. This could be sinusitis.
  • You have a fever which lasts more than a day or which is high (over 39C) and does not respond to simple treatment.
  • You have a temperature that rises after you've been ill for a few days.
  • You have a moist or wheezy cough, or if you are having difficulty breathing.
  • You have a cough that seems to be getting worse or will not go away.
  • You have any symptoms that last for more than a week.