Health experts warn to plan ahead for flu

Australia has recently experienced the biggest, and earliest, flu outbreak in recent years. Since planning for vaccinations in the UK is based on what happens in the southern hemisphere, UK health experts warn that we should all be taking note of the Australian outbreak and start preparing now for a winter flu outbreak.

Australia has had 94,000 confirmed cases of flu so far, worryingly high figures compared to last year’s total number of cases of 12,000. July and August are traditionally the peak months for flu, during their winter months, but a very large number of cases were reported in June, bringing ‘flu season’ forward by a month.

While the Australian figures may not show an epidemic, rather an outbreak which has peaked early, health experts are concerned that Australia’s experience could be mirrored in the UK. They have called for early preparation, with vaccines and increased awareness especially amongst health and social care staff to ensure vaccination is a key part of winter planning.

“What happens in Australia can often be a sound prediction of what might happen here in the UK,” said Care UK’s director of nursing, Kate Carter. “There is enough concern among the medical fraternity for us to all think seriously about planning ahead for a potentially heavy flu outbreak in the UK this year.”

Flu symptoms include a cough, sore throat, general aches and pains and a fever of above 38ºC.

Yousaf Ahmad, chief pharmacist for Care UK, advises people to take action in a bid to fend off flu:

Get vaccinated

Many people qualify for a free flu vaccination, but even if you don’t the costs are not extortionate and are a good investment to help you keep flu-free this winter. Get a vaccination every year. Strains of flu change over time and the effect of the vaccination can wear off after three to four months.

Think clean

More bugs are spread through handshakes than kissing, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and regularly especially after coming into contact with someone you think may have flu.

Keep it covered

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing – a sneeze or a cough can spread the flu virus further than you might think.

Chuck it

If you have used a tissue, put it in the bin immediately and clean your hands by washing with soap and water or with a sanitiser gel afterwards.

No sharing

Whenever possible, avoid sharing crockery, cutlery and towels with other people.

Clean surfaces

Make sure that surfaces in frequent use, such as phones, keyboards and door handles, are cleaned regularly to avoid spreading the flu virus.

Stay at home

If you have flu symptoms, stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. Mild flu or cold symptoms can be treated at home. Speak to a pharmacist who can advise you of the best course of action to treat your flu symptoms.

It is worth remembering that colds and flu are caused by viruses, so cannot be treated with antibiotics which are designed for bacterial infections.