Every year, a new strain of the flu virus cultivates and hits our shores. In order to protect ourselves against the flu, we each need to get vaccinated annually.
A flu shot every year
New strains of the flu virus develop every year. To combat this, a new vaccine is formulated annually.
“The virus is always changing,” Executive Director of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institution (SAHMRI) Professor Steve Wesselingh says. “That’s why each of us has to head to the doctor or pharmacist each year for the vaccine that has been developed specifically to combat this year’s flu. When you get vaccinated your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from influenza. Over time these antibodies reduce, so you need to build up these antibodies again each year.”
Who is at risk?
Every year the flu virus causes serious illness and death in our communities. Infants, the elderly, those with lung diseases and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are among those most at risk when contracting the virus, but even otherwise healthy, young people can be susceptible.
Professor Wesselingh says that as soon as the Federal Government announces the new vaccine is available, then people should head to their GP or pharmacy to get it.
“The best way to avoid getting the flu, is to get a flu shot,” Professor Wesselingh says. “And, the more people who are vaccinated around you, then the less likely it is that someone will bring the virus into your house, workplace or school. Also, if you do happen to be unlucky enough to contract the virus after being vaccinated, then your symptoms are likely to be less severe than otherwise.”
How does the vaccine work?
Unlike some other vaccines, such as measles, the flu vaccine does not contain a live strain of the virus. Instead it is produced from inactivated viruses. The inactivated virus (or virus subunits) stimulates your body’s immune response, so that if you are exposed to the flu virus, your immune system recognises it and immediately produces antibodies to fight it.
You can get the flu if you come into contact with it when an infected person coughs or sneezes, as well as by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
How can you avoid getting the flu?
First and foremost, get your flu shot. That tiny prick from the needle is nothing compared to the pain and aches (or worse) people suffer from if they contract the virus.
Also, maintaining good hand hygiene is very important. This means washing your hands before preparing food and eating.
“In addition to this, particularly at the height of the flu season, it is also worth washing your hands at regular intervals throughout the day,” Professor Wesselingh says. “Soap and water, and antibacterial handwash are each effective.”
If you are feeling unwell, then Professor Wesselingh says there is one major thing we can all do to stop the spread of disease – don’t go to work!
“We have a culture in Australia of showing up to work and doing our best, even when we are not feeling well,” Professor Wesselingh says. “In the case of the flu, you are actually doing everybody else a disservice by potentially spreading the virus around. Stay home and protect your work colleagues.”
The flu is an infectious disease that we can prevent and predict. If you think you have Influenza (flu), then visit your GP. They can assist you with treatments that can lessen the severity of the illness.
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