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Dr Duncan

Fighting back against the flu

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The recent heavy rainfall and powerful storm fronts remind us not only of the awesome power of nature, but that winter is well and truly upon us! Winter also brings nights when the skies clear, the temperature plummets  and it’s been my observation that as the sun sets below the horizon, little children creep into their parents bedrooms with the colds and croupy coughs that they’ve brought home from school, and those winter nights suddenly become a whole lot longer!

It’s the time of year when viruses begin to spread throughout our communities with people in shopping centers, workplaces and schools coughing and sneezing and spreading viruses. Each year people are uncertain as to whether they have a cold or the “Flu”, and even for experts it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference unless a blood test is performed or nose and throat swabs taken. For me, a simple way to tell the difference is, that if you think you might have the flu, you probably haven’t, because when you do get the flu you’ll be really sick for up to 10 to 14 days, and you will be “flattened” by it. Head colds are caused by a different group of viruses and will usually last from 5 to 7 days. They are less serious and have a much smaller impact on your health.

So how do I reduce my risk of getting the flu?


The most effective way to reduce the impact of the influenza virus on your health at this stage is to have a flu vaccine. Flu shots are not perfect and will not necessarily stop you getting the flu, but they do reduce the risk of getting it, and they will reduce the impact of the illness should the virus get past your body’s natural defensive mechanisms.

Influenza can be a serious illness even for the most fit and healthy person, but for those with reduced immunity or chronic health problems it can prove fatal. So it is very important that “at risk” people do have a flu vaccine, and it’s just as important for those who care for such people (the care givers and health professionals with whom they are in daily direct contact) that they get immunized too. If you’re not sure ask your GP.

But most people will often think, “Should I have the flu shot, because I’m not sick and I look after myself”? The short answer is yes, because if you do get sick, not only will you feel terrible but you will also be infectious to others whom you meet on a daily basis, that includes your partner, your kids, people you work with and the whole of the community that you live in. You can never really be sure which one of those might have diabetes or perhaps be on chemotherapy for breast cancer! So by protecting yourself, you are also playing your part in protecting your community.

There are other things that you can do that will maximize your health and help to stave of sickness. These practical, preventative measures include eating a healthy diet, one that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables that contain those powerful anti-oxidants which are thought to supplement the body’s immune system, and being physically fit. A good level of personal fitness is a great because influenza can put you to bed for days, and being bed-ridden causes muscle weakness/wasting which slows your ability to rehabilitate. And slow rehabilitation means a slower return to normal life and daily commitments. If you’re fit, you recover faster.

Maintaining a healthy diet and staying fit are things that should be a part of our daily routine. Good personal hygiene should also be a part of that routine too. But hygiene habits need to be taught and each generation needs to pass them onto the next generation so that the chain of good health is maintained.

Virus infections are usually spread by “hand to mouth”, or by “droplets” and we can all have a big impact on these transmission processes by having good personal hygiene.

1.Wash your hands with soap and water whilst humming the first verse (very few people know the second one) of the National Anthem. This will make us all proud to be good Australians, and we’ll have spotlessly clean hands too!
2. If you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, then sneeze/cough into the crook of your elbow: this will keep your hands free of viruses and so reduce the chance that you will leave them on a door knob, lift button, telephone etc for the next person to pick them up!
3. Avoid touching your mouth/face/eyes/nose with your hands. This is a real challenge and takes conscious practice. If you do manage to do this then you will have broken the hand/face bridge that takes germs from your hands to the moist openings of your body.
4. If you can’t avoid touching, then carry alcohol wipes with you to frequently clean your hands when out and about so that you destroy any germs that you might pick up on your hands.
5. Dispose of all tissues and wipes in a safe and appropriate manner.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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