COVID-19 has taken up so much press coverage that we may have forgotten about flu season. More than ever, we have to be vigilant and take all necessary precautions. What is going on with the flu this year?
What is influenza?
It is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Not everyone that is infected will get ill, but for those that do, common symptoms are headache, fever, cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints, and a general sense of feeling awful. It is usually more severe than a simple cold, but has a range of severity—ranging from mild to life-threatening. Other bacterial and viral infections may occur due to the lowering of the body’s defenses and this year, that means making you more vulnerable to COVID-19. More severe cases are more likely to occur in those that are elderly, very young, have diabetes, or heart disease.
The northern hemisphere
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the flu season in the northern hemisphere has come to an end six weeks earlier than usual. Interestingly, the flu season in the northern hemisphere started with a bang. It was set to be the worst in years. Cases dropped hugely between March and April this year, as lockdowns came into effect. This is, of course, due to measures such as people washing their hands more often, wearing masks and, of course, social distancing. This has potentially saved thousands of lives; although, it is difficult to determine with the COVID-19 cases and other communicable diseases in the mix. For example, there may have been a tendency not to seek treatment for certain conditions, which will lead to a ‘surge’ in cases later on.
The southern hemisphere
According to the WHO, the southern hemisphere, including Namibia, has already started its flu season. It typically peaks in July or August. It is unclear whether the same trend of a slowed infection rate will be observed to the same extent as in the northern hemisphere, but it does seem that, as the southern hemisphere enters its wintertime, the flu season is running a little behind.
As an example, Australia had an unusually bad year for flu last year. In May 2019, there were 30,567 confirmed cases recorded. In May 2020, there were just 171.
That’s the new information, let’s explore some proven facts and precautions you can take.
- Every year the flu is different, so every year, you need an updated vaccine.
- Usually, flu vaccination reduces the risk by 60%. In a bad year, the seasonal flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by only 20% to 30% in the overall population.
- A flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
- It takes up to two weeks for immunity to develop after getting a vaccine.
- Flu cannot be treated with antibiotics as it is a virus, not bacteria.
- The incubation period—the time between infection and the appearance of symptoms—is usually about two to three days. Of course, this can vary between individuals.
- Vaccination against respiratory illness is highly recommended—people who are at high risk of infection should be vaccinated.
- Avoid close contact with sick people—and if you are ill, stay at home.
- Frequent hand-washing—At least 20 seconds each time. After washing dry hands thoroughly with, if available, single-use paper towels.
- Practice good respiratory hygiene—Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough and use tissues not handkerchiefs
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth—Viruses are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.