With COVID-19 still in the community, many restrictions relaxed, and international borders reopen, our communities may be more vulnerable to the resurgence of influenza this winter. So it's important to do what you can now to reduce the chance of catching a virus, and to stop the spread.
No matter your health or age, you can be affected by the flu and experience mild or serious symptoms. Those who are older or have ongoing health issues may be more at risk of flu complications. Fortunately, many of the same habits that prevent COVID-19 will also help protect against cold or flu. These are good habits to practise every cold and flu season.
Here are eight things you can do to stay healthy this cold and flu season.
1. Get the flu jab
The annual flu vaccine remains the best defence from influenza and its complications. The flu vaccine is especially important for people who are at increased risk of health complications, like people 65 and over, pregnant women, people with chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, lung conditions, neurological diseases, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over. This link from the Department of Health has a more complete list of who the vaccine is recommended for and who can get it for free under the National Immunisation Program. If you're over 65, there's a specific flu vaccine recommended for you, but it's not available from all providers, so call ahead to check. Some universities and workplaces offer free flu vaccines to students and staff so double check to see if one is available to you.
The flu vaccine won't protect you against COVID-19 (coronavirus), but it will reduce your risk of influenza — which leads to thousands of hospitalisations each year. By getting the flu vaccine, you can reduce the strain on the health service.
2. Wash and dry your hands
Just like coronavirus, regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water is one of the best ways to reduce your risk. If you touch a surface in a public place, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands first. If you don’t have access to soap and water you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (look for at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol).
3. Keep your distance
By now you’ve probably heard that you should aim to leave about a metre and a half of space between yourself and other people to reduce the risk of coronavirus. The same advice applies to reduce your chances of catching the flu (or passing it on before you realise you’re contagious). Consider wearing a mask in high-risk areas like public transport or health facilities to reduce your risk. When in doubt, refer to your state or territory's current public health advice about masks.
4. Stay home when you’re unwell
If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home and try to keep space from the people you live with to reduce the chance of passing it on. Wait until you’re well to have visitors over or return to work or school.
5. Clean shared spaces
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like benches, doorknobs and door handles, tables, fridge doors and toilets regularly. Use antiviral disinfectants because they will kill viruses on common surfaces. Check the label to make sure you've got the right disinfectant.
You may want to also wipe down your phone, keyboard and other objects that are touched regularly and could be home to viruses.
6. Don’t share germs (or personal items where they like to live)
During cold and flu season take extra care to avoid spreading viruses. Don’t share drinks, cutlery, glasses, toothbrushes or towels. Cough into your elbow or a tissue (that you immediately toss out) rather than your hand.
7. Support your body’s natural defence system
A strong immune system is the first line of defence against infections such as cold and flu. When you’re healthy and well, your body does a better job at fighting off viruses.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. For most of us that’s about seven to eight hours. For more tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, check out this resource.
- Try to find healthy ways to manage stress. This may mean you need to identify sources of stress in your life and ways to reduce it, such as delegating more, learn to say 'no', or come up with ideas to reduce conflict. Learning relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, and strategies such as meditation or mindfulness can also help you cope better, as can regular exercise. A mental health professional can teach you ways to manage stress better, so reach out if you need more support. It’s much easier to keep up a healthy lifestyle when you’re mentally well. If you’re a Medibank member with hospital cover you can call 1800 644 325 to speak to a mental health professional for confidential support, advice or information. OSHC members should call the Student Health & Support line on 1800 887 283.
- Get your body moving. Physical activity can help reduce stress hormones. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you’re not used to it, build up slowly.
- Eat nutritious meals with plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes.
- If you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking, or regularly breathing in smoke at home or work makes you more likely to develop infections and experience more severe illness. Support, whether from a free service like Quitline® or your GP, increases the chance you’ll be successful. Encourage family members who smoke to try to quit as well. Contact Quitline® on 13 78 48 or quitnow.gov.au.
8. Be prepared
Flu can come on suddenly, and the less often you leave your house with symptoms, the less likely you are to pass it on to others. So you may want to have some essential items at home: tissues, medicines to help relieve symptoms, ingredients for a soothing drink such as hot lemon, honey and ginger, and a few favourite meals in the freezer, such as a nourishing soup or stew you can eat as you start to recover.