Deakin expert warns about severe flu season three times worse than normal
An expert from Victoria’s Deakin University has warned the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector about a potential sign of a “tough winter on its way”, urging those working with vulnerable populations, such as young children to get vaccinated against the flu.
The flu season has started early this year, prompting infectious disease expert, Associate Professor Deb Friedman from Deakin University’s Medical School, to issue a warning, and provide tips on ways for individuals to protect themselves and the community from flu.
Associate Professor Friedman said that it was difficult to predict the severity of the flu season ahead of time, but that there were signs and indications that the 2019 flu season would be far worse than in previous years.
For example, more than 5,000 cases of flu have already been reported in Victoria this year – more than three times the usual amount. Similar figures have been reported in other states, indicating that the problem is not isolated to one area or region.
The flu season usually runs from April to October over the colder months. Associate Professor Friedman said the particular strain or strains of flu circulating during this period was the major predictor of a severe flu season or flu pandemic.
“A new strain to which the community has poor immunity will cause a severe season with more cases,” she said.
“The flu is an acute contagious viral infection caused by the influenza virus. The hallmark symptoms include fever, chills, and muscle ache, which may be accompanied by respiratory symptoms such as cough, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea.”
The flu is not to be confused with viral illness, known as a common cold – true flu is far more severe and can be debilitating. Those with a viral cold will typically not present with a fever, instead experiencing a sore throat and runny nose.
“People with the flu are significantly more unwell and are at risk of many complications which do not occur in the common cold. The very young, the elderly, pregnant women, those with reduced immunity, and those with underlying medical conditions such as heart or lung disease or obesity, are the most at risk.” Associate Professor Friedman said.
She outlined three important ways to protect yourself from the flu virus: “The three best ways are annual vaccination, separating oneself by more than one metre from sick people, and good hand hygiene,” she said.
“Washing hands is crucial, as we spread flu either by inhaling infectious droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, or via our hands touching surfaces or other hands which may transmit flu.”
Associate Professor Friedman said the annual flu vaccine, typically available from mid-April through GPs and some pharmacies, was developed to cover circulating strains in Australia and in the northern hemisphere.
“That means it can vary from year to year, and only covers a certain number of the most common strains. Once vaccinated, individuals develop antibodies to the strains in the vaccine and this reduces their chances of developing influenza.”
Further information about vaccination may be available from your employer, with many approved providers offering a vaccination program as part of health and wellbeing measures to support employees.