In Good health on Monday 4th Apr, 2022

The flu and you: What you need to know about the 2022 flu season

Apr 04, 2022
Yearly flu vaccination offers the best protection against contracting and spreading the flu. Image source: Getty

 Autumn may have just started, but experts are already urging over-60s to book in for their annual flu jab.

The past two years have seen record-low flu case numbers due to COVID-19 border closures, social distancing, and hygiene measures. But that looks set to change.

Medical experts are now warning that while the flu took a back seat in 2020 and 2021, reduced socialising has meant we have had less exposure to flu viruses resulting in reduced herd immunity. This leaves us vulnerable to new strains of the flu virus and the potential for a devastating flu season in 2022.

Brisbane-based GP, Dr Sarah Chu is concerned this flu season will see the potential for a ‘twindemic’, where a severe flu season happens alongside COVID-19 infections.

“I think we are in for a flu spike in 2022 and even the possibility of twin COVID-19 and influenza infections that will place further strain on the health care system,” she says.

The ideal time for over-60s to start thinking about their seasonal flu vaccine is in April – before winter begins.

The flu isn’t the same thing as a cold

Cold and flu are often referred to together, but they are distinct and differ dramatically in severity.

While colds might come with sneezing, sniffles or sore throat, Dr Chu reminds us that, “the flu usually presents with fever, headaches, body aches and pains that can be severe, along with exhaustion and fatigue that can last up to 2 to 3 weeks.”

The flu is a serious respiratory disease that can have a devastating impact on your health and lasting consequences. And it affects us differently as we age.

Dr Chu explains, “getting sick with the flu may mean never recovering to your previous level of function or doing the things you love.”

If you are in your sixties or older, a severe case of the flu is more likely to put you in hospital. It is estimated that between 2016 and 2019, approximately 56 per cent of flu hospitalisations occurred in Australians aged 60 and above.

If you are older and/or have an existing illness, the flu can cause serious complications including:

  • pneumonia (up to 100-fold increased risk in the week following infection)
  • heart attack (up to a 10-fold increased risk in the days following infection)

And if you have existing coronary heart disease, your risk of dying from flu complications increases 10-fold compared to people without coronary heart disease.

Why do I need the flu shot?

Annual flu vaccination remains our best protection against contracting and spreading the flu and preventing flu-related complications, hospitalisation, and even death.

“The flu virus is unpredictable because the circulating virus changes every year,” says Dr Chu. “The protection provided by the flu vaccine wanes, so it is best to be vaccinated each year before winter.”

“And for families,” Dr Chu continues, “getting the flu shot also protects the newborn grandchildren you cuddle that might be too young to receive their own flu shot.”

Dr Chu explains that vaccines may contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism (antigen) that trigger an immune response, creating antibodies to protect you against future infection.

Preparation is key to staying protected this winter.

Dr Chu says there are several different influenza vaccines available, of various types. And so, it is important to discuss with your GP the most appropriate way to protect yourself against the flu based on your personal health circumstances.

Vaccine protection is vital as we age

Annual flu vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu and its potentially serious complications.

However, as we age, our immune system weakens and starts to show a reduced immune response to standard-dose flu vaccines. Therefore, effective vaccination is paramount to reducing influenza infections, hospitalisations, and associated complications.

The good news is Australians aged over 60 can now choose from a range of vaccines after consultation with a healthcare professional.

Dr Chu points out that recent progress in vaccine research has given us a broader choice of vaccine options.

While the Australian Government covers the cost of a flu vaccine for over-65s and others deemed to be at greatest risk, annual vaccination is recommended for all Australians. If you are under 65 years, check your private health insurance policy for coverage of flu vaccine costs.

With the flu season just around the corner, Dr Chu recommends that, “now is the best time to speak to your GP about how you can best protect yourself against the flu before winter sets in”.

Talk to your doctor about influenza protection and vaccine options. For more information, visit  www.vaccinehub.com.au/disease/influenza

 

Common cold and flu myth-busters

Dr Chu shares common misconceptions her patients have had about influenza:

Myth: The flu is a lot like a cold

Fact: Influenza is highly contagious and potentially life-threatening

Myth: The flu can be treated with antibiotics

Fact: Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viral infections

Myth: Healthy people don’t need an influenza vaccine

Fact: Everyone over the age of 6 months is recommended to receive an influenza vaccine each year.

Myth: You catch a cold or flu from cold weather, getting caught in the rain, not drying your hair, etc.

Fact: Influenza and the common cold are caused by viruses, not by the temperature or feeling cold.

 

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IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Protecting yourself against flu in 2022

Experts fear this flu season may be more severe than the last two years. If you are over 60 and catch the flu, you’re at higher risk of serious complications or requiring hospital care. Find out more about flu prevention and the different vaccine choices available for people aged 60 plus.

Learn more

When do you usually get your flu vaccine for winter? Did you avoid the flu last year?

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