After COVID-19 you might think the flu is nothing to worry about. It’s just a bad cold, right? Think again!
Like COVID-19, flu is a potentially life-threatening viral infection that’s easily spread through coughing and sneezing and touching virus-infected surfaces. Flu can be a serious illness in vulnerable people like pregnant women, older people, young children, and those with chronic health conditions.
“In recent years, public health measures to keep us COVID-safe have also kept us flu-safe, but now we’ve opened up our communities and our borders, the flu is back with a vengeance,” commented Dr Chelsie Mcmullin, a Bupa Medical Advisor.
In 2019 (pre-COVID) the flu put nearly 4000 people in hospital and caused 953 deaths.
“This year we’re already seeing a surge in influenza cases across the country, putting our already stressed health system under more pressure,” said Dr Mcmullin.
“The best chance you have of protecting yourself and others from the flu is by getting vaccinated. Everyone from six months of age should have a flu shot each year.”
And an added bonus of all those good hygiene habits we’ve developed for COVID – they’ll help protect us from the flu too.
What is the flu shot?
Vaccines stimulate your immune system to fight the virus, so you don’t get ill in the first place or get a milder illness if you do contract it
You need to get a flu shot annually. Why? Because the flu virus mutates and creates new strains. Every year, the World Health Organization predicts the four most expected flu strains and vaccines are formulated to cover them. Immunity usually develops about 2 weeks after your shot and peaks 3 to 4 months later.
Many variables affect how well the vaccine works in any given year but it’s generally up to 60% effective in preventing the flu. It also helps protect those most at risk from complications like pneumonia or being hospitalised because of the flu.
Dr Mcmullin advises that even if you have already had the flu this year, you’ll still benefit from the vaccine as it may protect you against the newer circulating flu strains.
When should you get vaccinated?
The best time to get vaccinated is in autumn before the expected flu season in winter. This gives your body enough time to develop immunity before the flu season hits.
Usually the latest flu vaccine arrives at the doctor’s surgery or pharmacy in April, but this may vary from year to year.
Can the flu shot give you the flu?
The influenza vaccine contains only inactivated virus particles and so is incapable of giving you the flu.
Some people do experience flu-like symptoms after their shot, including fever, aches and pains and tiredness. These symptoms don’t mean you have the flu, they’re most likely your body’s natural response to the vaccine and are usually mild and short-lasting.
“But talk to your doctor if your symptoms get worse or don’t go away after a few days,” Dr Mcmullin said. “As flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, it’s best to check in with a health professional for advice and take a rapid antigen test if you have one.”
Will the annual flu vaccine protect you from COVID-19?
The flu vaccine won’t protect you from COVID-19 because they’re caused by different viruses. The flu is so called because it’s caused by the influenza virus. And we’re now all familiar with the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19. This means that you’ll need a specific vaccine to stimulate your immune system to fight each virus.
It’s safe to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu on the same day, so if you’re due a COVID shot, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best vaccination timing for you.
If you’re unfortunate enough to get the flu, here are some tips on treating it.
Australian Immunisation Handbook, recommendations:
Depart Health 2019 influenza season in Australia summary:
National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance FAQ: