You’ve begun hearing it already, haven’t you? The sniffles echoing around your packed train carriage. Or the muffled cough from the corner of the crowded elevator. It can only mean one thing: flu season is upon us.
And I’ve got some bad news for you. While winter, and August, in particular, is the peak period for the flu, data taken so far this year suggests we’re in for a massive season.
In fact, in March last year, 3172 people were diagnosed with the flu. In March this year, though, that number was more than 10,000. That doesn’t bode well for what’s coming in our busier flu months.
One of the reasons 2019 is looking so brutal, doctors say, is that we got off so lightly last year. Not that the flu was any less rough for those who caught it, but that fewer of us were struck down with the virus altogether.
Because 2018 was such a light-year for the number of influenza cases in Australia, our community immunity simply isn’t strong enough to fight off this year’s virus.
There’s a big difference between the flu (influenza) and the common cold, of course. The former is far more serious.
In fact, the flu claims more lives in Australia than motor vehicle accidents, and it will see more than 13,000 people hospitalised this year.
Little wonder, then, that one of the questions I’m asked most often is how to avoid getting the flu.
So join me as we hack the very best ways to get through this flu season.
GET YOUR FLU JAB
I get so many people asking me whether they should get the flu shot or not, and my answer is always the same: there’s no guarantee that, even with the vaccination, you won’t get the flu. It typically only protects against one strain of the virus – and they can get the strain wrong. However, it at least improves your chances.
When you get the flu vaccination, your body then releases antibodies that can protect you against the most common strains of flu, either fighting off infection altogether or reducing the virus’s impacts.
Remember, though, it does take two weeks to work, so don’t leave it too late to get your shot. It really is the perfect way to start the flu season.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
The flu is a virus, and so it is usually contracted through your eyes, nose, and mouth. And while you can’t always avoid coming into contact with sick people, you can take a very simple step to prevent yourself from contracting the virus.
Have you noticed how doctors are always washing their hands? That’s because we all habitually touch our faces as often as 50 times every hour, and so washing your hands ensures that any germs you might have picked up by touching something won’t make its way to your eyes, nose or mouth.
Over 70 per cent of the population is currently dehydrated. That’s right now, as you’re reading this, seven out of 10 people are inadequately hydrated.
Our general level of wellness is dictated by how much fluid is in our system, but it’s particularly important at flu time, too. The cold weather essentially removes the moisture from our bodies, creating an environment in which the flu loves to thrive. The short answer? Drink more water this winter.
SLEEP IS STRENGTH
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health, especially when it comes to avoiding getting sick. In fact, studies show that people who sleep for five hours (or less) a night are five times more likely to get sick as people who get 7.5 hours’ kip.
Put simply, it’s the most reliable way to fight infection. And if you want a two-for-one bonus, experts suggest that the quality of sleep between 9pm and 2am is twice as good as sleep at other hours.
LET THE SUNSHINE IN
Simply walking in the sunshine for 20 minutes per day makes you 50 per cent less likely to get the flu than those who don’t. The secret is vitamin D, which helps to fight off the sickness before it takes hold.
Sunshine can be hard to come by in winter, but studies show that taking even small-dose vitamin D supplements, which are cheap as chips, can make you 42 per cent less likely to get the flu.
Hey Adam, my husband is a firm believer in the “man flu”. But does it even exist? Or is just something made up by blokes so they can stay in bed longer?
I’ve got bad news for you. While it definitely sounds made up, studies have shown that a kind of man flu actually exists. According to Harvard Health, men’s testosterone levels can impact the number of antibodies they can produce, making the impact of a cold or flu slightly more severe.