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Published Wednesday, 11th February 2015

I don’t usually pay too much attention to the warnings of Flu every year in Australia.

To me, getting the Flu means feeling like rubbish for a week, maybe taking a day off work and then “getting on with it”.  Besides, when I do get a Flu shot, I sometimes still get the flu anyway, and why do the nurses still offer lollypops to adults for a Flu shot anyway?  Does it really make a difference in the overall scheme of things?

Recently however, I discovered a few things about the Flu that has completely changed the way I view the Flu; It is not just me I should be considering, it’s everybody else as well.

In 2014 there were 72 influenza associated deaths in Australia – all as a result of Influenza type A1.

This number relies on the follow up of cases to determine the outcome of infection and is most likely under-reported. The real number of influenza associated deaths has been estimated to be as great as 1500 to 3500 deaths every year.

Influenza in Australia is estimated to cause more than 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 visits to your local GP every year. So not only does the Flu cause death, there is also a huge load on our hospital and healthcare systems that, in Australia, are currently already stretched.

An adult is in the lowest risk category at 10 to 30%2 risk of contracting the flu in any given season, hence my lack of concern. However, children are at the highest risk of contracting the Flu in any given season at 20-50% with up to 70% of children contracting the virus during pandemic years2.

Also, there are other factors like heart conditions, asthma and other lung conditions, diabetes (type 1 and type 2), kidney problems and conditions causing impaired immunity that put people at risk of severe complications from flu.

But there is more:

People can be contagious a day before experiencing any symptoms, so we are often spreading the virus before we know we are unwell. People are also contagious for up to five days after symptoms disappear.

And Influenza is extremely contagious. Studies have shown that influenza can live for:

  • An hour or more in the air in enclosed environments;
  • More than 8 hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic;
  • Up to 15 minutes if transferred from tissues to hands;
  • Up to 5 minutes after transfer from the environmental surfaces.

Worksafe Queensland is urging employers to encourage staff to get the flu vaccine this season. Flu Smart was conceived by the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) to raise awareness of flu and prevent vaccine shortages in Australia. Their website, flusmart.org contains a short video that illustrates the ease with which the Flu is spread3:

Immunising against seasonal influenza prevents not just the spread of the Flu to you, but more importantly, the spread of Flu from you to others who may be at a greater risk of severe complications or even death.

If there was a successful widespread immunisation program in Australia, it would also decrease the burden on our Hospital and Healthcare systems as well.

To me, it is no longer a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” and “who else I can drag along with me” at work when it comes to seasonal Flu shots. It only takes a few seconds…

Nurse: “By the way, what colour lolly pop will you want after your shot?”

Me: “Umm…”

Nurse: “There, it’s done! Here’s your lollypop. See you next year.”

Tricked again….

References:

  1. Australian Influenza Surveillance Report No. 8 2014. Reporting Period 27 September to 10 October 2014. Australian Government Department Of Health. Website: http://www.health.gov.au/flureport
  2. Neuzil KM, Hohlbein C, Zhu Y. Illness Among Schoolchildren During Influenza Season. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156:986-991
  3. Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) 2014. Outsmart The Flu In 2014. Website: flusmart.org. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPecutgZbz8
  4. Worksafe Queensland 2015. eSafe Newsletter April 2015. Link 

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