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  • Sponsored Q&A

    Ask Dr Charlotte: What is the flu (influenza) and should I get myself vaccinated?

    Each month Healthshare asks our followers to ask questions around a health topic. Our in-house GP, Dr Charlotte Middleton picks a handful of them and provides answers in a video.

    As the flu season is fast approaching, this month's video covers influenza and how you can prevent yourself from contracting the virus or spreading it.

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    • Dr Charlotte Middleton
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  • Special interests: integrative health (nutrition/vitamins/supplements), certified GAPS nutritional practitioner, womens and childrens health, endocrine disorders, weight loss, autoimmune disease View Profile

    What is influenza?

    Commonly known as the flu, influenza is a highly contagious disease that can affect the whole body. It is spread by infected people (by coughing and sneezing) or by surfaces contaminated by respiratory secretions. It is easy to catch and spread, and difficult to avoid.

    The seasonal influenza can be fatal to people in high risk groups, it’s estimated to cause more deaths than road accidents each year. Between 5% and 25% of all Australians will get influenza each year and what’s concerning is that children are much more likely to be infected than adults in any given season. In fact, influenza is the leading cause of hospitalisation in children less than 5 here in Australia.

    Influenza can last for more than an hour in the air in enclosed environments, more than 8 hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic, and up to 15 minutes if transferred from tissues to hands. Another factor that makes it difficult to avoid being infected is that you can actually have the flu for a day before experiencing any of the symptoms.

    What are the typical flu symptoms?

    The obvious ones include the high fever, chills, severe cough, headache, muscle aches and pains as well as sore throat. Children can also get symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s worth noting that all these symptoms can indicate other things than the flu so if you or your child are experiencing any of those, consult with your doctor.

    As mentioned before, flu can be fatal to people in high risk groups, including:

    • Anyone aged 6 months or over with an underlying medical condition, like asthma, COPD, diabetes type 1 and 2 or kidney problems
    • Pregnant women
    • Indigenous Australians (particularly aged between 6 months and 5 years, and over 15)
    • People over 65 years of age
    • Residents of nursing homes and other long term care facilities

    The flu vaccine is recommended to anyone in the groups mentioned, including pregnant women. Any trimester of the pregnancy is considered safe and the vaccine confers three for one benefits – protects the woman during pregnancy and shortly after giving birth, protects the baby by trans-placental antibodies and by antibodies in the breast milk.

    What should you do if you get the flu?

    If you have just experienced the symptoms (first 48 hours), go and see your GP. There are antiviral treatments available and they are most effective if given early. They won’t make you feel better straight away, but can make your recovery time shorter and prevent complications secondary to influenza.

    In terms of treating the symptoms, over the counter pain medications can work well for taking away the general aches and pains or the high fever you may be experiencing. Keeping hydrated is also very important. To be honest, the best treatment is rest – remember that you are contagious for up to 5 days (or more in children) after you’ve developed the symptoms, so you should be staying away from your work place, keeping your children away from child care or school for at least that amount of time.

    Is there anything you can do to avoid the spread of influenza?

    There are certain things you can do to prevent further spread of the disease. This include washing your hands regularly, covering your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, avoiding physical contact with others while you’re sick. You should also avoid mixing with other people, particularly those in high risk groups while contagious.

    Do consider getting yourself vaccinated, it is free for people in high risk groups under the National Immunisation Register of Australia and safe for pregnant women as well as kids over 6 months of age. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor.

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