News

Advice for winter cold and flu blues


5 July 2012

As many of us sniffle and cough our way through another winter, University of Sydney Professor Robert Booy, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance at Sydney Medical School has some advice about colds and flu.

It is not just people's perceptions that this year has been particularly bad for colds and flu. It has been the busiest year for hospital admissions, including to intensive care, for complications from flu infections for the last three years.

It is difficult to know exactly why it is worse this year. Every year we chase the virus as it continues to mutate and we try to adapt, reviewing what is in the flu vaccine each year in order to keep up with changes in the virus.

To prevent getting sick there are several straightforward measures you can take.

  • Don't shake hands - a smile will do!
  • Wash your hands regularly including after blowing your nose.
  • If you have a minor sniffle it is OK to soldier on at work but if you have major symptoms then go home and save your colleagues from possible infection.
  • If you sneeze use a tissue and throw it away - if you are caught without a tissue or hankie then sneeze into the crook of your elbow.

Once you are sick with a suspected cold then rest and fluids are the best treatment. There are at least a dozen viruses which cause colds and they are not treatable with an antibiotic.

If you suspect you have the flu, because for example a colleague was diagnosed by a GP, there is a specific antiviral treatment that can be provided by your GP. It is effective if you take it within the first couple of days of symptoms. Some symptoms of flu are sore muscles, headache, high fever and a very sore throat.

If your symptoms worsen, with for example shortness of breath, chest pain or yellow or green mucus then you may be getting pneumonia. You should see a GP as your viral infection might have become complicated with a bacterial infection which is treatable with an antibiotic.

Pneumonia is an infection of the smaller airways while bronchitis is an infection of the larger airways.

Regarding the flu vaccine, even if you don't fall into the risk groups it is valuable to have a flu vaccine because you help form a 'chain of protection' around those who are vulnerable.

At-risk groups for pneumonia and flu are people 65 or over and younger people with chronic medical conditions such as emphysema, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.

For flu, pregnant women are also in the at-risk group and can get the flu vaccine for free.


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