1. “It’s just a cold – nothing serious!”
Influenza, or ‘flu’, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It is often mistaken with the common cold. Both can begin suddenly and cause similar symptoms such as a sore throat.
Influenza, however, is usually more severe with fevers and muscle aches lasting up to a week. Influenza can result in serious complications in high risk individuals such as pneumonia, hospitalisation and even
lead to death.
2. “Don’t go out in the cold with that wet hair you will catch a cold!”
No matter what your grandmother may have said, going outside without your jacket does not increase your risk of flu. While there might seem to be a connection — since flu season coincides with colder months
— there isn’t a direct cause. The rise and fall of flu season each year has more to do with the natural cycle of the virus and probably longer survival of the virus in the colder and more moist climate, although experts aren’t sure how this occurs exactly.
Moreover, we might come into closer contact with other people more because we’re all stuck inside. That could make it easier for the virus to spread. Spread of influenza occurs from person to person through droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. Touching a person’s hands or contaminated surface is a very common way of spread. Good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands thoroughly
with soap and warm water, has been well proven to reduce the risk of infection.
3.”I don’t need the flu vaccine. I’m too young!”
Flu can be potentially fatal for those at risk. It is recommended (and subsidised) to have the vaccine annually if you are:
• Aged 65 years and over
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
from 15 years of age
• Suffering from serious medical
conditions – talk to your GP if unsure
– ie. heart disease, chronic lung
condition, impaired immunity, diabetes.
• A health worker, carer for children or
The vaccine is safe in breastfeeding.
4. “Once I got the flu shot and it gave me the flu!”
You definitely cannot get the flu from the flu shot. There is no live virus in the vaccine but rather a small dose of the inactivated virus. It is very well tolerated, about 90 per cent effective and any symptoms are usually minor and short lived. Some people who get the flu shot may experience redness and swelling around the area of the injection. Some may also suffer short lived fever, tiredness and symptoms similar to the flu but this is not the flu. Most experience no symptoms after their vaccination.
5. “The vaccine doesn’t work – I was vaccinated and still got the flu.”
There are many different strains of flu and one vaccine cannot protect against them all. The vaccine contains the most common strains of flu expected to occur in Australia each year. As these strains change each year, a person needs to get vaccinated every year to be protected against new strains. The vaccine takes up to two weeks to work. There are also many illnesses that can cause flu-like illnesses and over 200 which
cause the common cold. The flu vaccine does not protect against these illnesses. Hence it may also be possible that you caught the flu virus before, or just after, you were vaccinated.
This year’s vaccine includes:
• A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like strain
• A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like strain
• B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like strain
6. “What about all those herbals and vitamin goodies from the pharmacy?”
Unfortunately no vitamin or herbal product has been shown conclusively to impact the incidence of the common cold but take heart, there have been some very interesting observations from extensive research.
In spite of 23 trials with Vitamin C, there are only a handful which show some positive results (for example in people engaged in regular vigorous activity or extreme climates).
Vitamin E and D have not been proven to help but two studies with children taking Zinc supplements for some months did show a reduction in incidence of colds. However, the negative effects of Zinc over the longer term are unknown and it hasn’t been studied in adults, so it cannot be recommended.
Six trials examining the benefits of Echinacea failed to demonstrate a beneficial effect for the prevention of the common cold. There is also some weak evidence for garlic in prevention of the common cold.
North American ginseng may shorten the duration of colds when taken preventively, but does not reduce the incidence or severity of illness. There are conflicting data on exercise and probiotics.
For more information about influenza, visit www.immunise.health.gov.au/ internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/ immunise-influenza-qanda