Australia is experiencing twice the number of flu cases this year, compared to last year, and mums are being hit the hardest.
The Influenza Specialist Group (ISG), which monitors the spread and impact of the flu in Australia and New Zealand, has reported a sharp increase in laboratory confirmed cases to 20,979. And this number is really only the tip of the iceberg, as many more go unreported.
Swine flu — or H1N1 — make up the majority of cases (except in NSW) and in the 20 to 49-year-old age group, 25 per cent more woman than men are getting sick.
Dr Alan Hampson Chairman of the Influenza Specialist Group says the flu results in 18,000 hospitalisations every year.
“Many of those seriously affected are not elderly people,” he says. “They are regular working people.
“Vaccination is the single best protection. With vaccination, you are protecting yourself and those around you from serious illness. But don’t put it off. The window is rapidly closing because your body needs time to respond to the vaccine.”
The flu vaccine is free for: pregnant women, those aged over 65 years, Indigenous Australians 15 years or older, and children and adults suffering underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, chronic neurological disease, and impaired immunity.
The period when an infected person is contagious depends on the age and health of the person. Studies show that most healthy adults may be able to infect others from one day prior to becoming sick and for five days after they first develop symptoms.
Some young children with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer than a week.
Flu prevention tips
- Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette! Turn away from others, cover your mouth or nose with a tissue or your sleeve. Use tissues and dispose of them in a bin (not your handbag or pocket). Wash your hands as soon as possible afterwards.
- Always wash your hands. The best way to kill the flu virus is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water (or an alcohol-based product if no water is available). Wash hands after coughing or sneezing, before preparing food, after being in contact with someone with the flu, before touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Clean frequently touched areas and don’t share personal items. Flu viruses can survive for up to eight hours on hard surfaces so regularly clean frequently touched items such as door handles, fridge doors, tables and benches. Use normal household detergents. Also make sure personal items – towels, bedding, water bottles, eating utensils and toothbrushes – aren’t shared.
Typical flu symptoms
The flu is not the same thing as a cold. Symptoms are more severe and recovery time much longer. Common flu symptoms include:
- high fever
- severe cough
- muscle aches or pain
- sore throat
- children’s symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
How to treat the flu
- Antiviral flu medication prescribed by your GP can be effective in treating Influenza. Flu antivirals must be taken within 48 hours of noticing symptoms for them to work.
- Antibiotics will NOT be effective in treating a flu. Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, whereas influenza is due to a virus.
- Painkillers and other non-presciption medications can make you feel better when you have the flu. But it is important to realise that they only dull the symptoms and have no influence on the infection itself It is really important to rest until the acute symptoms of fever and aches are no longer there when you withdraw these medications.
- Stay hydrated – drinking lots of water will help you deal with all of the aches and pains and your fever.
- The best flu treatment is bed rest. Rest until the acute symptoms of the flu are gone, this typically last up to a week but may last longer. Unlike the common cold, it may take several weeks to fully recover from the flu – even in healthy young people.
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