Older people and those with long term illnesses have increased risk of more serious problems from flu and are also more vulnerable to COVID-19. Both can cause pneumonia, so getting them at the same time could wreak havoc on your lungs. Fortunately, many of the same things that prevent COVID-19 will also help protect against cold or flu (and we should be doing them whenever we get cold or flu symptoms, Coronavirus or otherwise). Here are eight things you can do to stay healthy this cold and flu season (and help keep your loved ones and more vulnerable people in your community safe too):
1. Get the flu jab
Getting the flu vaccine is the best thing you can do to reduce your chance of getting the flu; and if you do get the flu, your symptoms will likely be milder and not last as long compared with people who don’t get the vaccine. 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, and neurological diseases. 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.
While the flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, it will reduce the risk of the double whammy of getting both the coronavirus and flu at the same time.
2. Wash and dry your hands
Just like with 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 reducing your chances of catching the flu (or passing it on before you realise you’re contagious).
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. You can use regular household detergent and water to clean, but check the label on disinfectant to make sure it is antiviral and not just antibacterial.
You may want to also wipe down your phone, keyboard and other objects that are touched regularly and could be harbouring viruses.
6. Don’t share germs (or personal items where they like to live)
During cold and flu season it’s worth taking some 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, practicing saying no, or coming 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 also help you learn 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.
• 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 essentials on hand: 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.