With the flu season just weeks away preparations have begun in Western Australia to help people stay safe.
Beating the flu
The Western Australian government has started its ‘Stay Well’ campaign.
The campaign allows all West Australians access to their free flu vaccination in the month of May.
Flu season is between May and October. The transmission of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 or flu is likely to increase during the colder months as people tend to move indoors more to socialise.
Last year there were 308 influenza-associated deaths nationally and in July Western Australia’s cases surged to more than 6,000.
Meadow Springs Optimal Pharmacy Plus vaccinating pharmacist Kaitlyn Harder says vaccinations keep the community safe and prevent the spread of influenza.
“There are many different ways vaccinations help you and the community,” Harder says.
“Getting vaccinated helps the health system and prevents hundreds of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year. By getting vaccinated it decreases the severity of the illness in people who are vaccinated, but who manage to still catch the flu.”
Vaccinations particularly protect those who are more vulnerable to the flu such as children, older people and those with chronic health conditions.
Harder says habits like keeping up with routine hygiene and staying inside when unwell are also vital to stopping the spread this season.
“Hand hygiene such as washing hands and coughing into the crook of your arm are important as well as staying inside and limiting contact with people when feeling unwell.”
The COVID-19 and flu combination
Eight cases of the latest COVID-19 mutation XBB.1.16, known as Arcturus, have been detected in Perth.
This variant which has swept through India has been upgraded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a ‘variant ‘of interest.’
Although the new variant is reportedly no more dangerous than Omicron, WHO reports Arcturus is spreading faster than previous variants.
WA Health has raised concerns about people getting COVID-19 and influenza at the same time.
Professor of immunology at Murdoch University Cassandra Berry says there is a risk of contracting both viruses at the same time which could have major repercussions on individuals and the community.
“It’s possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but because the symptoms look so similar to the common cold people are not testing and therefore spreading both the viruses or not getting proper treatment which can be detrimental to their health.”
Three-thousand-three-hundred and thirty one new cases of COVID were reported to WA Health in the week to April 20, with a total of 146 people with COVID-19 in the hospital and two in ICU.
There is concern that these cases could increase in the upcoming flu season.
Test before you go
The Therapeutic Goods Association has approved a combination of COVID-19 and Influenza self-tests for Australians.
This is similar to the technology used in the COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs), however, these RATs contain antibodies that can detect influenza A, influenza B as well as SARS-CoV-2.
“If you are feeling unwell it is recommended you take these tests to see if you have one of the viruses so you can isolate and get the proper medical treatment,” says Professor Berry.
Experts say it is also important you are tested to ensure the correct timing of your booster vaccination as you have to wait six months after infection.