Don't spread flu: it is in YOUR hands!

(apologies - stole the title from the NSW government flu campaign) What is the ‘flu’?

The ‘flu’ is a common disease of the airways caused by the influenza virus. It affects people of all ages. It is the most common vaccine-preventable disease in Australia. Although it can be a mild disease, it can also cause very serious illness in otherwise healthy people, leading to hospitalisation & even death. In 2017, there were 1137 deaths from the flu (in Oz). In 2018 this dropped to 73 deaths, likely due to higher rates of vaccination. The flu shot is one way you can significantly reduce your risk of serious illness and death from the flu. Careful hand washing before touching your face or eating can also help reduce your risk of catching the flu as well as colds.

How is the flu different from a cold? The flu and the common cold both cause illness of the respiratory system but are caused by different viruses. Colds typically have mild symptoms such as a sore throat, stuffy nose and annoying cough and generally does not cause serious consequences. Flu symptoms are typically more intense and severe and there is a higher risk of complications such as pneumonia, meningitis (brain inflammation), myocarditis (heart inflammation), rhabdomyolysis (muscle break down), sepsis (overwhelming systemic, life-threatening infection). Flu also can worsen other chronic medical conditions. Flu is BAD. I like this comparison of the flu and the cold from the Centre of Disease Control:

From: (tho I call bollocks on the headaches, colds defo give me headaches)

Why won't me GP give me antibiotics for my flu/cold? I am really sick!

Sorry, being facetious :-) Let me explain. Organisms or 'bugs' that cause disease/ illnesses are called pathogens. Two main types of pathogens are bacteria and viruses. They are very different microorganisms thus they are treated/killed in very different ways. Antibiotics only work on bacteria and individual antibiotics, e.g. penicillin, will only work on certain type of bacteria and not all bacteria. That is, don't just take the antibiotics that you have left over in the cupboard from a skin infection a few years back for your cold. Just don't - see your GP! Ok, getting side tracked. So antibiotics, do NOT work for viruses! But another doctor gave me antibiotics and I got better?

Sigh! Unfortunately, it is sometimes quicker and easier to get a patient to leave the room and to see the busy waiting room by meeting demands for antibiotics. Explaining why antibiotics are not needed and addressing patient concerns takes time, time that some doctors just do not have. You can help out your doctor by being educated (thanks for reading my post) and understanding that the vast majority of respiratory illnesses do not require antibiotics and will get better of their own accord. You can also help your doctor by not asking your doctor for antibiotics for your cold/flu. When you take the antibiotics, it is rarely the antibiotics that are making you better anyway but your own immune system. Two type of antibiotics that are sometimes used, roxithromycin (Rulide) and clarithomycin (Klacid) FEEL like they work not because of their antibiotic effect but because it reduces mucus production so you feel like you are getting better, when again it is just your immune system. Stop giving antibiotics ANY credit, its all you! Inappropriate use of antibiotics creates resistance, which is listed as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019, not to mention the risk of side effects of rash, allergic reaction and diarrhoea. No one wants diarrhoea.

Symptoms and signs that you MIGHT need antibiotics (not for the virus but any secondary bacteria infection) include persistent fevers (> 38.5 degrees), crackling sounds in the lungs when the doctor listens to your chest, ear and sinus infections with ongoing fevers, to name a few. It is ok to see your doctor for another assessment if you have ongoing or new symptoms. You know what is another one of the top 10 threats to global health? Global influenza pandemic! But you can get vaccinated for the flu (see what I did there? ;-) )

Who should get the ‘flu’ vaccine?

The annual flu vaccination is recommended for any person aged 6 months & over who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with the flu. Young children, those over 65 years, pregnant women, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people, & people with certain chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications of the flu & are especially encouraged to be vaccinated.

Can I get a ‘free’ flu vaccine?

The NSW & Commonwealth Governments cover the cost of vaccination (i.e. tax payer funded) for certain groups including those listed above. If you are not eligible, many clinics, including ours (, can provide a private flu vaccine for about $20. If you have your flu shot during my 'flu clinic' your consultation will be bulk-billed. Please note the 'flu clinic' appointments are for flu shots only. To book please call 95216261. The first clinic should be on the 18th of April (pending delivery of government vaccinations - private vaccines are available NOW!).

Why are there different types of flu vaccine?

There are 5 different brands of flu vaccine available for the 2019 flu season. Different vaccines are available for different age groups & we need to use the vaccine appropriate for your age for safety reasons.

Why do some vaccines have 4 strains of flu while others have 3 strains?

Most vaccines cover for two types of type A influenza & two types of type B influenza. For those over 65 years, the vaccine contains two types of type A influenza & one strain of type B influenza. The over 65 yr flu vaccine is developed in a way to cause a stronger immune response as the normal flu vaccine is less effective in those over 65 years. As the over 65 yr flu vaccine is able to cause a better immune response, this is likely to offset any loss of protection against the additional strain.

Who should not have the vaccine?

The only absolute NO NO for having a flu vaccine is a history of anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction) to the flu vaccine or any components in the vaccine. People with egg allergies can still have the vaccine but those with life-threatening egg allergies should be vaccinated in a hospital-type setting. There is no latex in the 2019 vaccine needles so those with latex allergies need not worry. Those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome or those being treated with immunological cancer therapy should discuss this with their doctor before receiving the vaccine.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

While the immune response to the vaccine can mimic a flu, there is NO live flu virus in the vaccines available in Australia so YOU CANNOT GET THE FLU FROM THE FLU VACCINE. The most common side effect is pain, swelling, hardness, and/or redness at the site of injection. Between 1-10% of people will have body symptoms such as fever, malaise & muscle aches which may last for up to 1-2 days. The rate of side effects can be higher in those over 65 as the vaccine is more immune stimulating. Very rarely, people can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine which typically has an immediate onset. This is why you are asked to remain in the clinic after your vaccination for a short time (usually 10-15 mins) for monitoring.

For more information see: World Health Organisation Top 10 Threats to Global Health in 2019: Please note, any pro-disease trolling will be deleted with all prejudice but otherwise please speak to me or your own GP about any flu vaccine questions or concerns.

- Holly the Gee Pee


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