Influenza season is here again bringing misery once more to many thousands of Australians. However, influenza ('the flu') can often be prevented and very effective treatments are available if you see your doctor early.
Influenza is a viral infection which causes a sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, loss of appetite, aches and pains and tiredness; sometimes with a cough, runny nose and sneezing. It is usually passed from person to person by coughing or sneezing or by contact with contaminated tissues or other objects.
Most healthy adults recover in 3-7 days. However, some cases result in complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinusitis, possibly leading to hospitalisation and even death.
How to prevent the flu
- Have a flu shot each year. Vaccination can still be given in June and July.
- Keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Eat a healthy diet, don't smoke, get plenty of sleep and exercise.
- Avoid close contact with people who have a cold or the flu, especially in crowded or enclosed spaces.
- Wash your hands after touching anything handled by flu sufferers, such as tissues and door handles.
If you have had recent, close contact with someone who has the flu, there are 2 anti-viral drugs available on script to help prevent catching it . One is a capsule and the other is an inhaled powder. Both are effective against all strains of influenza, including avian (bird) flu.
The drugs are well tolerated but the capsules may cause nausea and the powder is not generally recommended for patients with underlying lung conditions such as asthma or COPD. A 5-day course costs approximately $50.
How is the flu treated?
If you get the flu, the above mentioned drugs treat it very effectively if taken within 48 hours (the earlier the better). They shorten the illness by 1-2 days on average and reduce the severity of symptoms by up to 40%. They also reduce complications from influenza and greatly lower the need for antibiotics. Antibiotics do not work for the flu, but are sometimes needed for complications.
- Have plenty of rest, in bed if needed.
- Drink extra fluids, such as lemonade, fruit juices or water.
- Four-hourly paracetamol or ibuprofen (or aspirin for adults) can help reduce aches and pains and fever.
- Decongestant nose sprays/tablets, antihistamines, throat lozenges, steam inhalations and salt water gargles can all help make you feel better.
Ask your doctor for more information.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.