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What’s the difference between ‘man flu’ and flu? Hint: men may not be exaggerating

<div class="theconversation-article-body"> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/thea-van-de-mortel-1134101">Thea van de Mortel</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p>The term “man flu” takes a <a href="https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/man-flu">humorous poke</a> at men with minor respiratory infections, such as colds, who supposedly exaggerate their symptoms.</p> <p>According to the stereotype, a man lies on the sofa with a box of tissues. Meanwhile his female partner, also with a snotty nose, carries on working from home, doing the chores and looking after him.</p> <p>But is man flu real? Is there a valid biological reason behind men’s symptoms or are men just malingering? And how does man flu differ from flu?</p> <h2>What are the similarities?</h2> <p>Man flu could refer to a number of respiratory infections – a cold, flu, even a mild case of COVID. So it’s difficult to compare man flu with flu.</p> <p>But for simplicity, let’s say man flu is actually a cold. If that’s the case, man flu and flu have some similar features.</p> <p>Both are caused by viruses (but different ones). Both are improved with rest, fluids, and if needed painkillers, throat lozenges or decongestants to <a href="https://activities.nps.org.au/nps-order-form/Resources/NPS-Cold-and-Flu-Brochure-May-2014.pdf">manage symptoms</a>.</p> <p>Both <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm">can share</a> similar symptoms. Typically, more severe symptoms such as fever, body aches, violent shivering and headaches are more common in flu (but sometimes occur in colds). Meanwhile sore throats, runny noses, congestion and sneezing are more common in colds. A cough is common in both.</p> <h2>What are the differences?</h2> <p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm">Flu</a> is a more serious and sometimes fatal respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Colds are caused by various viruses such as <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553670/">rhinoviruses</a>, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/adenovirus/about/?CDC_AAref_Val=https://www.cdc.gov/adenovirus/symptoms.html">adenoviruses</a>, and common cold <a href="https://journals.lww.com/pidj/citation/2022/03000/proving_etiologic_relationships_to_disease_.18.aspx">coronaviruses</a>, and are rarely serious.<br />Colds tend to <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm">start gradually</a> while flu tends to start abruptly.</p> <p>Flu can be <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/diagnosis/overview-testing-methods.htm">detected</a> with laboratory or at-home tests. Man flu is not an official diagnosis.</p> <p>Severe flu symptoms may be prevented with <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm">a vaccine</a>, while cold symptoms cannot.</p> <p>Serious flu infections may also be <a href="https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/racf-antiviral-treatments-and-prophylaxis.aspx">prevented or treated</a> with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu. There are no antivirals for colds.</p> <h2>OK, but is man flu real?</h2> <p>Again, let’s assume man flu is a cold. Do men really have worse colds than women? The picture is complicated.</p> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399922003324?via%3Dihub">One study</a>, with the title “Man flu is not a thing”, did in fact show there <em>were</em> differences in men’s and women’s symptoms.</p> <p>This study looked at symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis. That’s inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses, which would explain a runny or stuffy nose, a sinus headache or face pain.</p> <p>When researchers assessed participants at the start of the study, men and women had similar symptoms. But by days five and eight of the study, women had fewer or less-severe symptoms. In other words, women had recovered faster.</p> <p>But when participants rated their own symptoms, we saw a somewhat different picture. Women rated their symptoms worse than how the researchers rated them at the start, but said they recovered more quickly.</p> <p>All this suggests men were not exaggerating their symptoms and did indeed recover more slowly. It also suggests women feel their symptoms more strongly at the start.</p> <h2>Why is this happening?</h2> <p>It’s not straightforward to tease out what’s going on biologically.</p> <p>There are <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nri.2016.90">differences</a> in immune responses between men and women that provide a plausible reason for worse symptoms in men.</p> <p>For instance, women generally produce antibodies more efficiently, so they <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nri.2016.90">respond more effectively</a> to vaccination. Other aspects of women’s immune system also appear to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2735332/">work more strongly</a>.</p> <p>So why do women tend to have <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nri.2016.90">stronger immune responses</a> overall? That’s probably partly because women have two X chromosomes while men have one. X chromosomes carry important <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nri.2016.90#Tab3">immune function genes</a>. This gives women the benefit of immune-related genes from two different chromosomes.</p> <p>Oestrogen (the female sex hormone) also seems to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nri.2016.90">strengthen</a> the immune response, and as levels vary throughout the lifespan, so does <a href="https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciimmunol.aan2946">the strength</a> of women’s immune systems.</p> <p>Men are certainly more likely to die from some infectious diseases, such as <a href="https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/life-expectancy-deaths/deaths-in-australia/contents/covid-10-deaths">COVID</a>. But the picture is less clear with other infections such as the flu, where the incidence and mortality between men and women <a href="https://iris.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665/44401/9789241500111_eng.pdf?sequence=1&amp;isAllowed=y">varies widely</a> between countries and particular flu subtypes and outbreaks.</p> <p>Infection rates and outcomes in men and women can also depend on the way a virus is <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/immunology/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2021.712688/full">transmitted</a>, the person’s age, and social and behavioural factors.</p> <p>For instance, women seem to be more likely to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8077589/#R20">practice protective behaviours</a> such as washing their hands, wearing masks or avoiding crowded indoor spaces. Women are also <a href="https://bmcprimcare.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12875-016-0440-0">more likely</a> to seek medical care when ill.</p> <h2>So men aren’t faking it?</h2> <p>Some evidence suggests men are not over-reporting symptoms, and may take longer to clear an infection. So they may experience man flu more harshly than women with a cold.</p> <p>So cut the men in your life some slack. If they are sick, gender stereotyping is unhelpful, and may discourage men from seeking medical advice.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/231161/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/thea-van-de-mortel-1134101">Thea van de Mortel</a>, Professor, Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/whats-the-difference-between-man-flu-and-flu-hint-men-may-not-be-exaggerating-231161">original article</a>.</em></p> </div>

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"Worst nightmare": Teen dies one day after flu diagnosis

<p>William Jones was complaining of a sore throat and cough last month and when his mum called the doctor, they were told that it was most likely the flu. </p> <p>However, the following morning when Rebecca Rollason went to check on her 16-year-old son, he was found unresponsive in his bed in their Wellington home. </p> <p>"We ask ourselves how what started as a sore throat, snotty nose and a cough on Tuesday to no longer with us three days later,"  the grieving mum told the <em>NZ Herald</em>. </p> <p>"No one understands, we don't know what happened... it feels like the worst nightmare that we cannot wake from."</p> <p>Rollason explained that her family have to "wait for results" in hopes of understanding what happened and how the teenager, who was barely sick, passed away so suddenly. </p> <p>"We just don’t understand how this can happen to a boy who was barely ever sick and was very healthy," she said.</p> <p> "It is an incredibly hard and devastating time for us."</p> <p>A family friend has helped set up a <a href="https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/rebecca-lost-her-son-william-last-friday" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fundraising page</a> to help relieve the financial pressure on her and William's two brothers while they grieve. </p> <p>"It is every parents worst nightmare and a shocking tragedy to lose a healthy child from a sudden and brief illness," a statement from the fundraising page read. </p> <p>"The money will help the family with funeral costs and ease Financial burden while they grieve and come to terms with Williams passing." </p> <p>On July 1 they shared an update on the fundraising page, saying: "Rebecca and family would like all to know that are incredibly grateful for all the support and kindness." </p> <p><em>Image: Givealittle </em></p> <p> </p>

Caring

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With all this bird flu around, how safe are eggs, chicken or milk?

<div class="theconversation-article-body"><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/enzo-palombo-249510">Enzo Palombo</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/swinburne-university-of-technology-767">Swinburne University of Technology</a></em></p> <p>Recent outbreaks of bird flu – in <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-flu-summary.htm">US dairy herds</a>, <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2024-06-04/third-victorian-poultry-farm-declares-outbreak-avian-influenza/103932694">poultry farms in Australia</a> and elsewhere, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/bird-flu-is-hitting-australian-poultry-farms-and-the-first-human-case-has-been-reported-in-victoria-heres-what-we-know-230691">isolated cases</a> <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2024/05/30/bird-flu-third-case-human-infection-caused-respiratory-symptoms/">in humans</a> – have raised the issue of food safety.</p> <p>So can the virus transfer from infected farm animals to contaminate milk, meat or eggs? How likely is this?</p> <p>And what do we need to think about to minimise our risk when shopping for or preparing food?</p> <h2>How safe is milk?</h2> <p>Bird flu (or avian influenza) is a bird disease caused by specific types of influenza virus. But the virus can also infect cows. <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-flu-summary.htm">In the US</a>, for instance, to date more than 80 dairy herds in at least nine states have been infected with the H5N1 version of the virus.</p> <p>Investigations are <a href="https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections/livestock">under way</a> to confirm how this happened. But we do know infected birds can shed the virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. So bird flu can potentially contaminate animal-derived food products during processing and manufacturing.</p> <p>Indeed, fragments of bird flu genetic material (RNA) were found in <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-bird-flu-virus-fragments-get-into-milk-sold-in-stores-and-what-the-spread-of-h5n1-in-cows-means-for-the-dairy-industry-and-milk-drinkers-228689">cow’s milk</a> from the dairy herds associated with <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2024/05/30/bird-flu-third-case-human-infection-caused-respiratory-symptoms/">infected US farmers</a>.</p> <p>However, the spread of bird flu among cattle, and possibly to humans, is likely to have been caused through contact with <a href="https://www.agriculturedive.com/news/contaminated-milk-equipment-potential-source-of-bird-flu-spread-to-cattle/712555/">contaminated milking equipment</a>, not the milk itself.</p> <p>The test used to detect the virus in milk – which uses similar PCR technology to lab-based COVID tests – is also highly sensitive. This means it can detect very low levels of the bird flu RNA. But the test does not distinguish between live or inactivated virus, just that the RNA is present. So from this test alone, we cannot tell if the virus found in milk is infectious (and capable of infecting humans).</p> <p>Does that mean milk is safe to drink and won’t transmit bird flu? Yes and no.</p> <p>In Australia, where bird flu has not been reported in dairy cattle, the answer is yes. It is safe to drink milk and milk products made from Australian milk.</p> <p>In the US, the answer depends on whether the milk is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B978184569216250013X?via%3Dihub">pasteurised</a>. We know pasteurisation is a common and reliable method of destroying concerning microbes, including influenza virus. Like most viruses, influenza virus (including bird flu virus) is inactivated by heat.</p> <p>Although there is little direct research on whether pasteurisation inactivates H5N1 in milk, we can extrapolate from what we know about heat inactivation of H5N1 in <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0362028X22060732?via%3Dihub">chicken</a> and <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2036-7481/13/4/60">eggs</a>.</p> <p>So we can be confident there is no risk of bird flu transmission via pasteurised milk or milk products.</p> <p>However, it’s another matter for unpasteurised or “raw” US milk or milk products. A recent <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2405495">study</a> showed mice fed raw milk contaminated with bird flu developed signs of illness. So to be on the safe side, it would be advisable to avoid raw milk products.</p> <h2>How about chicken?</h2> <p>Bird flu has caused sporadic outbreaks in wild birds and domestic poultry worldwide, including <a href="https://theconversation.com/bird-flu-is-hitting-australian-poultry-farms-and-the-first-human-case-has-been-reported-in-victoria-heres-what-we-know-230691">in Australia</a>. In recent weeks, there have been <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2024-06-04/third-victorian-poultry-farm-declares-outbreak-avian-influenza/103932694">three reported outbreaks</a> in <a href="https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/animal-diseases/poultry-diseases/avian-influenza-bird-flu#h2-0">Victorian poultry farms</a> (two with H7N3 bird flu, one with H7N9). There has been <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2024-05-23/bird-flu-detected-western-australia-chicken-farm/103880002">one</a> reported outbreak in <a href="https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-biosecurity/avian-influenza">Western Australia</a> (H9N2).</p> <p>The strains of bird flu identified in the Victorian and Western Australia outbreaks can cause human infection, although these <a href="https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/animal-diseases/poultry-diseases/avian-influenza-bird-flu#h2-8">are rare</a> and typically result from close contact with infected live birds or <a href="https://www.who.int/emergencies/situations/avian-influenza-a-(h7n9)-virus-outbreak">contaminated environments</a>.</p> <p>Therefore, the chance of bird flu transmission in chicken meat is remote.</p> <p>Nonetheless, it is timely to remind people to handle chicken meat with caution as many dangerous pathogens, such as <em>Salmonella</em> and <em>Campylobacter</em>, can be found on chicken carcasses.</p> <p>Always handle chicken meat carefully when shopping, transporting it home and storing it in the kitchen. For instance, make sure no meat juices cross-contaminate other items, consider using a cool bag when transporting meat, and refrigerate or freeze the meat within two hours.</p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/no-you-shouldnt-wash-raw-chicken-before-cooking-it-so-why-do-people-still-do-it-192723">Avoid washing your chicken</a> before cooking to prevent the spread of disease-causing microbes around the kitchen.</p> <p>Finally, cook chicken thoroughly as viruses (including bird flu) <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0362028X22060732?via%3Dihub">cannot survive</a> cooking temperatures.</p> <h2>Are eggs safe?</h2> <p>The recent Australian outbreaks have occurred in egg-laying or mixed poultry flocks, so concerns have been raised about bird flu transmission via contaminated chicken eggs.</p> <p>Can flu viruses contaminate chicken eggs and potentially spread bird flu? It appears so. A <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196655306011862?via%3Dihub">report</a> from 2007 said it was feasible for influenza viruses to enter through the eggshell. This is because influenza virus particles are smaller (100 nanometres) than the pores in eggshells (at least 200 nm).</p> <p>So viruses could enter eggs and be protected from cleaning procedures designed to remove microbes from the egg surface.</p> <p>Therefore, like the advice about milk and meat, cooking eggs is best.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/egg-guidance-regulation-and-other-information/questions-and-answers-regarding-safety-eggs-during-highly-pathogenic-avian-influenza-outbreaks">US Food and Drug Administration</a> recommends cooking poultry, eggs and other animal products to the proper temperature and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked food.</p> <h2>In a nutshell</h2> <p>If you consume pasteurised milk products and thoroughly cook your chicken and eggs, there is nothing to worry about as bird flu is inactivated by heat.</p> <p>The real fear is that the virus will evolve into highly pathogenic versions that can be transmitted from <a href="https://theconversation.com/bird-flu-is-hitting-australian-poultry-farms-and-the-first-human-case-has-been-reported-in-victoria-heres-what-we-know-230691">human to human</a>.</p> <p>That scenario is much more frightening than any potential spread though food.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/231280/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/enzo-palombo-249510">Enzo Palombo</a>, Professor of Microbiology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/swinburne-university-of-technology-767">Swinburne University of Technology</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-all-this-bird-flu-around-how-safe-are-eggs-chicken-or-milk-231280">original article</a>.</em></p> </div>

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Too many Australians aren’t getting a flu vaccine. Why, and what can we do about it?

<div class="theconversation-article-body"> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/holly-seale-94294">Holly Seale</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/unsw-sydney-1414">UNSW Sydney</a></em></p> <p>Australia’s childhood immunisation program gets very good uptake every year – <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/immunisation-data/childhood-immunisation-coverage">almost 94% of five-year-olds</a> have had all their routine vaccinations. But our influenza vaccine coverage doesn’t get such a good report card.</p> <p>Looking back over <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/historical-national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-end-year-age">recent years</a>, for kids aged six months to five years, we saw a peak in flu vaccine coverage at the beginning of the COVID pandemic at 46%, which then declined to 30% by the 2023 season.</p> <p>While we’re still relatively early in the 2024 flu season, only <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data">7% of children</a> under five have received their flu shot this year so far.</p> <p>Although young children are a particular concern, flu vaccination rates appear to be lagging for the population as a whole. Reports indicate that <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-05-07/calls-to-vaccinate-young-children-against-flu-as-season-begins/103783508">from March 1 to April 28</a>, 16% fewer people were vaccinated against the flu compared with the same period last year.</p> <p>So what’s going on, and what can we do to boost uptake?</p> <h2>Why do we vaccinate kids against the flu?</h2> <p>Last year, <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-12/aisr-2023-national-influenza-season-summary.pdf">reported cases of flu</a> were highest in children aged five to nine, followed by those aged zero to four. This is not a new trend – we record a high number of flu cases and hospital admissions in kids every year. So far <a href="https://nindss.health.gov.au/pbi-dashboard/">this year</a> children aged zero to four have had the highest number of infections, marginally ahead of five- to nine-year-olds.</p> <p>While kids are more likely to catch and spread the flu, they’re also <a href="https://theconversation.com/kids-are-more-vulnerable-to-the-flu-heres-what-to-look-out-for-this-winter-117748">at greater risk</a> of getting very sick from it. This particularly applies to children under five, and the flu vaccine is available for free for this age group.</p> <p>The flu vaccine isn’t perfect – it may not prevent infections entirely – but it’s definitely our best chance of protection. Research has shown influenza-related visits to the GP were <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27577556/">more than halved</a> in vaccinated children compared with unvaccinated children.</p> <h2>So why are kids not receiving the vaccine?</h2> <p>Often, it comes down to misunderstandings about who is eligible for the vaccine or whom it’s recommended for. But we can address this issue by nudging people via <a href="https://www.annfammed.org/content/15/6/507?sf174332549=1">a text message reminder</a>.</p> <p>Some parents <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X17318285">report concerns</a> about the vaccine, including the old dogma that it can cause the flu. The flu vaccine <a href="https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/flu-influenza-immunisation">can’t give you the flu</a> because it doesn’t contain live virus. Unfortunately, that myth is really sticky.</p> <p>For <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jpc.15235">some parents</a>, the challenge can be forgetting to book or accessing an appointment.</p> <h2>It’s not just kids at higher risk</h2> <p>Adults aged 65 and over are also <a href="https://theconversation.com/im-over-65-and-worried-about-the-flu-which-vaccine-should-i-have-204810">more vulnerable</a> to the flu, and can receive a <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">free vaccine</a>. For this group, we usually get around <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/historical-national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-end-year-age">65% vaccinated</a>. So far this year, <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-all-people-age-group">around 35%</a> of over-65s have received their flu vaccine.</p> <p>Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are likewise eligible for a free flu vaccine. While previously coverage rates were higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples compared to the overall population, this gap has narrowed. There’s even some movement backwards, especially <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/historical-national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-end-year-age">in younger age groups</a>.</p> <p>The flu vaccine is also free for pregnant women and anyone who has <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/when-to-get-vaccinated/immunisation-for-people-with-medical-risk-conditions">a medical condition</a> such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes or kidney disease.</p> <p>Past studies have found flu vaccine coverage <a href="https://www.phrp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/PHRP31232111.pdf">for pregnant women</a> varies around the country from 39% to 76% (meaning in some jurisdictions up to 60% of pregnant women are not getting vaccinated). When it comes to adults with chronic health conditions, we don’t have a good sense of how many people receive the vaccine.</p> <p>The reasons adults don’t always get the flu vaccine overlap with the reasons for children. Often <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08870446.2021.1957104">concerns about side effects</a> are cited as the reason for not getting vaccinated, followed by time constraints.</p> <p>We also know <a href="https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/primary-health-care/coordination-of-health-care-experiences-barriers/summary">accessing medical services</a> can be difficult for some people, such as those living in rural areas or experiencing financial hardship.</p> <h2>Filling the gaps</h2> <p>In Australia, GPs offer flu vaccines for all ages, while flu vaccination is also available at pharmacies, generally from age five and up.</p> <p>While some people make a conscious decision not to get themselves or their children vaccinated, for many people, the barriers are related to access.</p> <p>Programs offering vaccination outside the doctor’s office are increasing globally, and may assist in <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14760584.2019.1698955">filling gaps</a>, especially among those who don’t have regular access to a GP.</p> <p>For some people, their only point of contact with the <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34272104/">medical system</a> may be during emergency department visits. Others may have more regular contact with a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7046372/">specialist</a> who coordinates their medical care, rather than a GP.</p> <p>Offering vaccine education and programs <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0009922810374353">in these settings</a> has been shown to improve immunisation rates and may play a pivotal role in filling access gaps.</p> <p>Outside medical and pharmacy settings, the workplace is the most common place for Australian adults to receive their flu vaccine. A <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1326020023004272">survey</a> showed Australian adults find workplace vaccination convenient and cost-effective, especially where free or subsidised vaccines are offered.</p> <p>Expanding vaccination settings, such as with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/19375867221087360?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&amp;rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&amp;rfr_dat=cr_pub%20%200pubmed">drive-through</a> and mobile clinics, can benefit groups who have unique access barriers or are under-served. Meanwhile, offering vaccination through faith-based organisations has been shown to improve uptake among <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37013523/">racial and ethnic minority groups</a>.</p> <p><em>Eleftheria Lentakis, a masters student at the School of Population Health at UNSW Sydney, contributed to this article.</em><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/229477/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/holly-seale-94294"><em>Holly Seale</em></a><em>, Associate Professor, School of Population Health, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/unsw-sydney-1414">UNSW Sydney</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/too-many-australians-arent-getting-a-flu-vaccine-why-and-what-can-we-do-about-it-229477">original article</a>.</em></p> </div>

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There are new flu vaccines on offer for 2024. Should I get one? What do I need to know?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/allen-cheng-94997">Allen Cheng</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065">Monash University</a></em></p> <p>Influenza is a common respiratory infection. Although most cases are relatively mild, flu can cause more severe illness in young children and older people.</p> <p>Influenza virtually <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33243355/">disappeared</a> from Australia during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic when public health restrictions reduced contact between people. Since 2022, it has returned to a seasonal pattern, although the flu season has started and peaked a few months earlier than before 2020.</p> <p>It’s difficult to predict the intensity of the flu season at this point in the year, but we can sometimes get clues from the northern hemisphere. There, the season <a href="https://www.who.int/tools/flunet">started</a> <a href="https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/fluview/flu_by_age_virus.html">earlier</a> than usual for the third year running (peaking in early January rather than late February/March), with a similar number of reported cases and hospitalisations to the previous year.</p> <p>Influenza vaccines are recommended annually, but there are now an increasing number of different vaccine types. Here’s what to know about this year’s shots, available from <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">this month</a>.</p> <h2>What goes into a flu vaccine?</h2> <p>Like other vaccines, influenza vaccines work by “training” the immune system on a harmless component of the influenza virus (known as an antigen), so it can respond appropriately when the body encounters the real virus.</p> <p>Influenza strains are constantly changing due to genetic mutation, with the pace of genetic change <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10421855">much higher</a> than for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID). The strains that go into the vaccine are <a href="https://www.who.int/teams/global-influenza-programme/vaccines/who-recommendations">reviewed</a> twice each year by the World Health Organization (WHO), which selects vaccine strains to match the next season’s predicted circulating strains.</p> <p>All current influenza vaccines in <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/publication/meeting-statements/aivc-recommendations-composition-influenza-vaccines-australia-2024">Australia</a> contain four different strains (known as quadrivalent vaccines). One of the strains appeared to <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2314801">disappear</a> during the COVID pandemic, and the WHO has recently <a href="https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/influenza/who-influenza-recommendations/vcm-southern-hemisphere-recommendation-2024/202309_qanda_recommendation.pdf?sfvrsn=7a6906d1_5">recommended</a> dropping this strain from the vaccine. It’s expected trivalent (three strain) vaccines will become available in the near future.</p> <h2>What’s different about new flu vaccines?</h2> <p>There are eight brands of flu vaccines <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/atagi-statement-on-the-administration-of-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2024?language=en">available</a> in Australia in 2024. These include egg-based vaccines (Vaxigrip Tetra, Fluarix Tetra, Afluria Quad, FluQuadri and Influvac Tetra), cell-based vaccines (Flucelvax Quad), adjuvanted vaccines (Fluad Quad) and high-dose vaccines (Fluzone High-Dose Quad).</p> <p>Until recently, the process of manufacturing flu vaccines has remained similar. Since the development of the influenza vaccine in the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/history-of-vaccination/history-of-influenza-vaccination">1940s</a>, influenza viruses were grown in chicken eggs, then extracted, inactivated, purified and processed to make up the egg-based vaccines that are still used widely.</p> <p>However, there have been several enhancements to influenza vaccines in recent years.</p> <p>Older people’s immune systems tend not to respond as strongly to vaccines. In some flu vaccines, adjuvants (components that stimulate the immune system) are included with the influenza antigens. For example, an adjuvant is used in the Fluad Quad vaccine, recommended for over 65s. Studies <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2021-02/Adjuvanted%20influenza%20vaccine%20vs%20standard%20dose%20influenza%20vaccine%20SoF%20EP%20E2D%20tables_26%20Feb%202021_Final.pdf">suggest</a> adjuvanted influenza vaccines are slightly better than standard egg-based vaccines without adjuvant in older people.</p> <p>An alternative approach to improving the immune response is to use higher doses of the vaccine strains. An example is Fluzone High-Dose Quad – another option for older adults – which contains the equivalent of four doses of a standard influenza vaccine. Studies <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2022-05/HD%20vs%20sIV%20SoF%20EP%20E2D_March%202022_Final.pdf">suggest</a> the high dose vaccine is better than the standard dose vaccine (without an adjuvant) in preventing hospitalisation and complications in older people.</p> <p>Other manufacturers have updated the manufacturing process. Cell-based vaccines, such as Flucelvax Quad, use cells instead of eggs in the manufacturing process. Other vaccines that are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/advances.htm">not yet available</a> also use different technologies. In the past, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31151913/">manufacturing issues</a> with egg-based vaccines have reduced their effectiveness. Using an alternative method of production provides some degree of insurance against this in the future.</p> <h2>What should I do this year?</h2> <p>Given indications this year’s flu season may be earlier than usual, it’s probably safest to get your vaccine early. This is particularly <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/atagi-statement-on-the-administration-of-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2024?language=en">important</a> for those at highest risk of severe illness, including older adults (65 years and over), those with chronic medical conditions, young children (six months to five years) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Influenza vaccines are also recommended in pregnancy to protect both the mother and the baby for the first months of life.</p> <p>Influenza vaccines are widely available, including at GP clinics and pharmacies, while many workplaces have occupational programs. For high-risk groups, <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">four of the vaccines</a> are subsidised by the Australian government through the <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/our-work/national-immunisation-program">National Immunisation Program</a>.</p> <p>In older people, a number of vaccines are now recommended: <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2024-03/atagi-statement-on-the-administration-of-covid-19-vaccines-in-2024.pdf">COVID</a> and influenza, as well as one-off courses of <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/06/national-immunisation-program-pneumococcal-vaccination-schedule-from-1-july-2020-clinical-advice-for-vaccination-providers.pdf">pneumococcal</a> and <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/shingles-herpes-zoster-immunisation-service">shingles</a> vaccines. In general, most vaccines can be given in the same visit, but talk to your doctor about which ones you need.</p> <h2>Are there side effects?</h2> <p>All influenza vaccines can <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">cause</a> a sore arm and sometimes more generalised symptoms such as fever and tiredness. These are expected and reflect the immune system reacting appropriately to the vaccine, and are mostly mild and short-term. These side effects are slightly more common in <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2021-02/Adjuvanted%20influenza%20vaccine%20vs%20standard%20dose%20influenza%20vaccine%20SoF%20EP%20E2D%20tables_26%20Feb%202021_Final.pdf">adjuvanted</a> and <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2022-05/HD%20vs%20sIV%20SoF%20EP%20E2D_March%202022_Final.pdf">high dose</a> vaccines.</p> <p>As with all medications and vaccines, allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis can occur after the flu vaccine. All vaccine providers are trained to recognise and respond to anaphylaxis. People with egg allergies should discuss this with their doctor, but in general, <a href="https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/egg-allergy-flu-vaccine">studies suggest</a> they can safely receive any (including egg-based) influenza vaccines.</p> <p>Serious side effects from the influenza vaccine, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological complication, are very rare (one case per million people vaccinated). They are <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23810252/">thought</a> to be less common after influenza vaccination than after infection with influenza.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/226623/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/allen-cheng-94997">Allen Cheng</a>, Professor of Infectious Diseases, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065">Monash University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/there-are-new-flu-vaccines-on-offer-for-2024-should-i-get-one-what-do-i-need-to-know-226623">original article</a>.</em></p>

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I think I have the flu. Should I ask my GP for antivirals?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lara-herrero-1166059">Lara Herrero</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/wesley-freppel-1408971">Wesley Freppel</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/yong-qian-koo-1457640">Yong Qian Koo</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p>If you test positive for COVID and you’re eligible for antivirals, you’ll likely ask your GP for a script to protect you from severe disease.</p> <p><a href="https://healthdispatch.com.au/news/immunisation-coalition-urging-people-with-flu-like-symptoms-to-g">Antivirals</a> are also available to fight influenza viruses, via a doctor’s prescription. But they have a mixed history, with their benefits at times <a href="https://theconversation.com/controversies-in-medicine-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-challenge-to-tamiflu-38287">overstated</a>.</p> <p>It can be difficult to get an appointment to see your GP. So when should you make the effort to see a GP for a prescription for influenza antivirals? And how effective are they?</p> <h2>What exactly is influenza?</h2> <p>The flu is primarily a viral infection of the respiratory system that can spread through sneezing, coughing, or touching contaminated objects then touching your nose or mouth.</p> <p>Common symptoms include headache, sore throat, fever, runny or blocked nose and body aches that last a week or more.</p> <p>Influenza is actually a group of viruses, divided into several <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm#:%7E:text=There%20are%20four%20types%20of,global%20epidemics%20of%20flu%20disease,%20https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/background-epidemiology.htm">sub-groups</a>. Flu A and B are the <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/aisr?language=en,%20https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/australian-influenza-surveillance-reports-2023?language=en">most common groups</a> that circulate in humans.</p> <h2>What are flu antivirals?</h2> <p>Influenza antivirals, target specific parts of the viral life cycle, which prevents the virus replicating and spreading.</p> <p>Most flu antivirals <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra050740">target</a> neuraminidase, an important enzyme the virus uses to release itself from cells.</p> <p>On the other hand, COVID antivirals work by inhibiting other parts of the viral life cycle involved in the <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/news/media-releases/tga-provisionally-approves-two-oral-covid-19-treatments-molnupiravir-lagevrio-and-nirmatrelvir-ritonavir-paxlovid">virus replicating itself</a>.</p> <p>Three influenza antivirals are <a href="https://australianprescriber.tg.org.au/articles/influenza-overview-on-prevention-and-therapy.html#r20">used in Australia</a>. Relenza (zanamivir) is an inhaled powder and Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is a capsule; both are five-day treatments. Rapivab (peramivir) is a single injection.</p> <p>These antivirals may also come with <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/summary-clinicians.htm">side effects</a>, such as a headache, vomiting, cough, or <a href="https://www.immunisationcoalition.org.au/resources/antiviral-treatments-for-influenza/">fever</a>.</p> <p>Tamiflu and Relenza generally cost A$40-50 in Australia, plus the cost of the consultation fee with your doctor, if applicable.</p> <h2>How effective are antivirals for the flu?</h2> <p>Antivirals have the greatest effect if started 24-72 hours after symptoms. This is to prevent the virus from reaching <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/19/5/3018">high levels in the body</a>.</p> <p>Among healthy adults, if Relenza or Tamiflu are started within 48 hours from your first symptoms, they can <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD008965.pub4/full">reduce the duration</a> of symptoms such as cough, blocked nose, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever by just under a day.</p> <p>For people who have developed severe flu symptoms or who have existing health conditions such as heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), antivirals that start later (but still before day five of symptoms) can still reduce the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/52/4/457/378776?login=true">severity of infection</a> and reduce the <a href="https://thorax.bmj.com/content/thoraxjnl/65/6/510.full.pdf?frbrVersion=3">chance of</a> <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/215903">hospitalisation</a> and <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/72/11/2990/4091484?login=false">death</a>.</p> <p>In a study from the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic in the United States, treatment with antivirals (Tamiflu and Relenza) <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3358088/">reduced</a> the chance of needing to be hospitalised. Around 60% of hospitalisations prevented were among 18-64 years olds, around 20% in children 0-17 years, and 20% in adults aged over 65.</p> <p>The research is less clear about whether antivirals prevent the development of flu complications such as secondary bacterial pneumonia. They might, but so far the data aren’t clear.</p> <h2>Are flu antivirals becoming less effective?</h2> <p>Antiviral resistance to Tamiflu has been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10096-020-03840-9">reported</a> around the world, mostly in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7223162/">immunocompromised people</a>, as they <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10096-020-03840-9">have</a> a weakened immune system that allows higher viral loads and prolonged viral shedding.</p> <p>The impact of the antiviral resistance is unclear but there is evidence indicating resistant strains can uphold their ability to replicate effectively and spread. So far it’s not clear if these stains cause more severe disease.</p> <p>However, government agencies and surveillance programs are constantly monitoring the spread of antiviral resistance. Currently there is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/antiviralresistance.htm">minimal concern</a> for strains that are resistant to Tamiflu or Relenza.</p> <h2>Antivirals can also prevent the flu if you’ve been exposed</h2> <p>Tamiflu and Relenza can also be used to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/irv.12046">prevent flu infections</a>, if we’re exposed to the virus or come into contact with infected people.</p> <p>Some studies suggest Tamiflu and Relenza can <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/326/7401/1235.long">reduce the chance of developing symptomatic influenza</a> by 70-90%.</p> <p>Many health agencies around the world <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8165743/">recommend</a> “prophylactic” treatment for high-risk patients in hospitals or age care setting when people have been in contact with others infected with influenza.</p> <h2>So who should talk to their GP about a prescription?</h2> <p><a href="https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/racf-antiviral-treatments-and-prophylaxis.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20Australian%20Therapeutic%20Guidelines*%20recommends,of%20severe%20disease%20from%20influenza.&amp;text=people%20with%20chronic%20conditions%20including,heart%20disease">Australian guidelines recommend</a> doctors offer antivirals to people with influenza who have severe disease or complications.</p> <p>Doctors can also consider treatment for people at higher risk of developing severe disease from influenza. This includes:</p> <ul> <li>adults aged 65 years or older</li> <li>pregnant women</li> <li>people with certain chronic conditions (heart disease, Down syndrome, obesity, chronic respiratory conditions, severe neurological conditions)</li> <li>people with compromised immunity</li> <li>Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people</li> <li>children aged five years or younger</li> <li>residents of long-term residential facilities</li> <li>homeless people.</li> </ul> <p>Doctors can prescribe antivirals for the prevention of influenza <a href="https://australianprescriber.tg.org.au/articles/influenza-overview-on-prevention-and-therapy.html#r20">in</a> vulnerable people who have been exposed to the virus.</p> <p>Antiviral treatment also can be <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/summary-clinicians.htm#:%7E:text=Antiviral%20treatment%20also%20can%20be,48%20hours%20of%20illness%20onset">considered</a> for otherwise healthy symptomatic patients who have confirmed or suspected influenza, if they can start treatment within 48 hours of developing symptoms.</p> <p>In some instances a doctors can make a clinical diagnosis of influenza based on the symptoms and known close flu positive contacts of the patient. However, it is preferred to have flu diagnosed by one of the approved diagnostic tests, such as a <a href="https://24-7medcare.com.au/influenza/australian-gp-influenza-2023-guide/">rapid antigen test</a> (RAT) or the more accurate <a href="https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/influenza_factsheet.aspx">PCR test</a>, similar to what is perfomed for COVID. There are also now combo tests that can <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/news/media-releases/first-combination-covid-19-and-influenza-self-tests-approved-australia">distinguish between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus</a>.</p> <p>Remember, the flu can cause <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-07-23/flu-season-hitting-children-hard-antivirals-may-help/102633722">severe illness or death</a>, particularly among people from the high-risk groups. So if you think you might have the flu, wear a mask and stay away to avoid spreading the virus to others. <!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/210457/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lara-herrero-1166059">Lara Herrero</a>, Research Leader in Virology and Infectious Disease, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/wesley-freppel-1408971">Wesley Freppel</a>, Research Fellow, Institute for Glycomics, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/yong-qian-koo-1457640">Yong Qian Koo</a>, , <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image </em><em>credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/i-think-i-have-the-flu-should-i-ask-my-gp-for-antivirals-210457">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Taking an antidepressant? Mixing it with other medicines – including some cold and flu treatments – can be dangerous

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/treasure-mcguire-135225">Treasure McGuire</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-queensland-805">The University of Queensland</a></em></p> <p>In the depths of winter we are more at risk of succumbing to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7522168/">viral respiratory infections</a> – from annoying sore throat, common cold and sinusitis, to the current resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID.</p> <p>Symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection range in severity. They can include fever, chills, muscle or body aches, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, earache, headache, and fatigue. Most antibiotics target bacteria so are <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32495003/">not effective</a> for viral infections. Many people seek relief with over-the-counter medicines.</p> <p>While evidence varies, guidelines suggest medicines taken by mouth (such as cough syrups or cold and flu tablets) have a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25420096/">limited but potentially positive</a> short-term role for managing upper respiratory infection symptoms in adults and children older than 12. These include:</p> <ul> <li>paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain or fever</li> <li>decongestants such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine</li> <li>expectorants and mucolytics to thin and clear mucus from upper airways</li> <li>dry cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan</li> <li>sedating or non-sedating antihistamines for runny noses or watery eyes.</li> </ul> <p>But what if you have been prescribed an antidepressant? What do you need to know before going to the pharmacy for respiratory relief?</p> <h2>Avoiding harm</h2> <p>An audit of more than 5,000 cough-and-cold consumer enquiries to an Australian national medicine call centre found questions frequently related to drug-drug interactions (29%). An 18-month analysis showed 20% of calls <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26590496/">concerned</a> potentially significant interactions, particularly with antidepressants.</p> <p>Australia remains in the “<a href="https://www.aihw.gov.au/mental-health/topic-areas/mental-health-%20prescriptions#Prescriptionsbytype">top ten</a>” antidepressant users in the <a href="https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=HEALTH_PHMC">OECD</a>. More than <a href="https://www.aihw.gov.au/mental-health/topic-areas/mental-health-prescriptions">32 million</a> antidepressant prescriptions are dispensed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme each year.</p> <p>Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression but are also used in chronic pain and incontinence. They are classified primarily by how they affect chemical messengers in the nervous system.</p> <p>These classes are:</p> <ul> <li><strong>selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI)</strong> such as fluoxetine, escitalopram, paroxetine and sertraline</li> <li><strong>serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)</strong> such as desvenlafaxine, duloxetine and venlafaxine</li> <li><strong>tricyclic antidepressants (TCA)</strong> such as amitriptyline, doxepin and imipramine</li> <li><strong>monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI)</strong> such as tranylcypromine</li> <li><strong>atypical medicines</strong> such as agomelatine, mianserin, mirtazapine, moclobemide, reboxetine and vortioxetine</li> <li><strong>complementary medicines</strong> including St John’s wort, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) and L-tryptophan</li> </ul> <p>Medicines within the same class of antidepressants have similar actions and side-effect profiles. But the molecular differences of individual antidepressants mean they may have different interactions with medicines taken at the same time.</p> <h2>Types of drug interactions</h2> <p>Drug interactions can be:</p> <ul> <li><strong>pharmacokinetic</strong> – what the body does to a drug as it moves into, through and out of the body. When drugs are taken together, one may affect the absorption, distribution, metabolism or elimination of the other</li> <li><strong>pharmacodynamic</strong> – what a drug does to the body. When drugs are taken together, one may affect the action of the other. Two drugs that independently cause sedation, for example, may result in excessive drowsiness if taken together.</li> </ul> <p>There are many <a href="https://wchh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/pnp.429">potential interactions</a> between medications and antidepressants. These include interactions between over-the-counter medicines for upper respiratory symptoms and antidepressants, especially those taken orally.</p> <p>Concentrations of nasal sprays or inhaled medicines are generally lower in the blood stream. That means they are less likely to interact with other medicines.</p> <h2>What to watch for</h2> <p>It’s important to get advice from a pharmacist before taking any medications on top of your antidepressant.</p> <p>Two symptoms antidepressant users should monitor for shortly after commencing a cough or cold medicine are central nervous system effects (irritability, insomnia or drowsiness) and effects on blood pressure.</p> <p>For example, taking a selective SSRI antidepressant and an oral decongestant (such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine) can cause irritability, insomnia and affect blood pressure.</p> <p>Serotonin is a potent chemical compound produced naturally for brain and nerve function that can also constrict blood vessels. Medicines that affect serotonin are common and include most antidepressant classes, but also decongestants, dextromethorphan, St John’s wort, L-tryptophan, antimigraine agents, diet pills and amphetamines.</p> <p><a href="https://reference.medscape.com/drug-interactionchecker">Combining drugs</a> such as antidepressants and decongestants that both elevate serotonin levels can cause irritability, headache, insomnia, diarrhoea and blood pressure effects – usually increased blood pressure. But some people experience orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure on standing up) and dizziness.</p> <p>For example, taking both a serotonin and SNRI antidepressant and dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) can add up to high serotonin levels. This can also occur with a combination of the complementary medicine St John’s Wort and an oral decongestant.</p> <p>Where serotonin levels are too high, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15666281/">severe symptoms</a> such as confusion, muscle rigidity, fever, seizures and even death have been reported. Such symptoms are rare but if you notice any of these you should stop taking the cold and flu medication straight away and seek medical attention.</p> <h2>Ways to avoid antidepressant drug interactions</h2> <p>There are a few things we can do to prevent potentially dangerous interactions between antidepressants and cold and flu treatments.</p> <p><strong>1. Better information</strong></p> <p>Firstly, there should be more targeted, consumer-friendly, <a href="https://www.webmd.com/interaction-checker/default.htm">online drug interaction information</a> available for antidepressant users.</p> <p><strong>2. Prevent the spread of viral infections as much as possible</strong></p> <p>Use the non-drug strategies that have worked well for COVID: regular hand washing, good personal hygiene, social distancing, and facemasks. Ensure adults and children are up to date with immunisations.</p> <p><strong>3. Avoid potential drug interactions with strategies to safely manage symptoms</strong></p> <p>Consult your pharmacist for strategies most appropriate for you and only use cold and flu medications while symptoms persist:</p> <ul> <li>treat muscle aches, pain, or a raised temperature with analgesics such as paracetamol or ibuprofen</li> <li>relieve congestion with a nasal spray decongestant</li> <li>clear mucus from upper airways with expectorants or mucolytics</li> <li>dry up a runny nose or watery eyes with a non-sedating antihistamine.</li> </ul> <p>Avoid over-the-counter cough suppressants for an irritating dry cough. Use a simple alternative such as honey, steam inhalation with a few drops of eucalyptus oil or a non-medicated lozenge instead.</p> <p><strong>4. Ask whether your symptoms could be more than the common cold</strong></p> <p>Could it be influenza or COVID? Seek medical attention if you are concerned or your symptoms are not improving. <!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/208662/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/treasure-mcguire-135225">Treasure McGuire</a>, Assistant Director of Pharmacy, Mater Health SEQ in conjoint appointment as Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Bond University and as Associate Professor (Clinical), <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-queensland-805">The University of Queensland</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-an-antidepressant-mixing-it-with-other-medicines-including-some-cold-and-flu-treatments-can-be-dangerous-208662">original article</a>.</em></p>

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What happens in our body when we encounter and fight off a virus like the flu, SARS-CoV-2 or RSV?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lara-herrero-1166059">Lara Herrero</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/wesley-freppel-1408971">Wesley Freppel</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p><a href="https://www.labcorp.com/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/covid-news-education/covid-19-vs-flu-vs-rsv-how-tell-difference">Respiratory viruses</a> like influenza virus (flu), SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can make us sick by infecting our respiratory system, including the nose, upper airways and lungs.</p> <p>They spread from person to person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks and can cause death in serious cases.</p> <p>But what happens in our body when we first encounter these viruses? Our immune system uses a number of strategies to fight off viral infections. Let’s look at how it does this.</p> <h2>First line of defence</h2> <p>When we encounter respiratory viruses, the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S193131281600038X?via%3Dihub/">first line of defence</a> is the physical and chemical barriers in our nose, upper airways, and lungs. Barriers like the mucus lining and hair-like structures on the surface of cells, work together to trap and remove viruses before they can reach deeper into our respiratory system.</p> <p>Our defence also includes our behaviours such as coughing or sneezing. When we blow our nose, the mucus, viruses, and any other pathogens that are caught within it are expelled.</p> <p>But sometimes, viruses manage to evade these initial barriers and sneak into our respiratory system. This activates the cells of our innate immune system.</p> <h2>Patrolling for potential invaders</h2> <p>While our acquired immune system develops over time, our innate immune system is present at birth. It generates “non-specific” immunity by identifying what’s foreign. The cells of innate immunity act like a patrol system, searching for any invaders. These innate cells patrol almost every part of our body, from our skin to our nose, lungs and even internal organs.</p> <p>Our respiratory system has different type of innate cells such – as macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells – which patrol in our body looking for intruders. If they recognise anything foreign, in this case a virus, they will initiate an attack response.</p> <p>Each cell type plays a slightly different role. Macrophages, for example, will not only engulf and digest viruses (phagocytosis) but also release a cocktail of different molecules (cytokines) that will warn and recruit other cells to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cmi.12580">fight against the danger</a>.</p> <p>In the meantime, natural killer cells, aptly named, attack infected cells, and stop viruses from multiplying and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-021-00558-3">invading our body further</a>.</p> <p>Natural killer cells also promote inflammation, a <a href="https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2018/1467538/">crucial part of the immune response</a>. It helps to recruit more immune cells to the site of infection, enhances blood flow, and increases the permeability of blood vessels, allowing immune cells to reach the infected tissues. At this stage, our immune system is fighting a war against viruses and the result can cause inflammation, fevers, coughs and congestion.</p> <h2>Launching a specific attack</h2> <p>As the innate immune response begins, another branch of the immune system called the adaptive immune system is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21070/">activated</a>.</p> <p>The adaptive immune system is more specific than the innate immune system, and it decides on the correct tools and strategy to fight off the viral invaders. This system plays a vital role in eliminating the virus and providing long-term protection against future infections.</p> <p>Specialised cells called T cells and B cells are key players in acquired immunity.</p> <p>T cells (specifically, helper T cells and cytotoxic T cells) recognise viral proteins on the surface of infected cells:</p> <ul> <li> <p>helper T cells release molecules that <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3764486/">further activate immune cells</a></p> </li> <li> <p>cytotoxic T cells directly kill infected cells with a very great precision, <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00678/full">avoiding any healthy cells around</a>.</p> </li> </ul> <p>B cells produce antibodies, which are proteins that can bind to viruses, neutralise them, and mark them for <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7247032/">destruction by other immune cells</a>.</p> <p>B cells are a critical part of memory in our immune system. They will remember what happened and won’t forget for years. When the same virus attacks again, B cells will be ready to fight it off and will neutralise it faster and better.</p> <p>Thanks to the adaptive immune system, vaccines for respiratory viruses such as the COVID mRNA vaccine keep us protected from <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/our-work/covid-19-vaccines/our-vaccines/how-they-work">being sick or severely ill</a>. However, if the same virus became mutated, our immune system will act as if it was a new virus and will have to fight in a war again.</p> <h2>Neutralising the threat</h2> <p>As the immune response progresses, the combined efforts of the innate and adaptive immune systems helps control the virus. Infected cells are cleared, and the virus is neutralised and eliminated from the body.</p> <p>As the infection subsides, symptoms gradually improve, and we begin to feel better and to recover.</p> <p>But recovery varies depending on the specific virus and us as individuals. Some respiratory viruses, like rhinoviruses which cause the common cold, may cause relatively mild symptoms and a quick recovery. Others, like the flu, SARS-CoV-2 or severe cases of RSV, may lead to more severe symptoms and a longer recovery time.</p> <p>Some viruses are very strong and too fast sometimes so that our immune system does not have the time to develop a proper immune response to fight them off. <!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/207023/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lara-herrero-1166059">Lara Herrero</a>, Research Leader in Virology and Infectious Disease, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/wesley-freppel-1408971">Wesley Freppel</a>, Research Fellow, Institute for Glycomics, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-happens-in-our-body-when-we-encounter-and-fight-off-a-virus-like-the-flu-sars-cov-2-or-rsv-207023">original article</a>.</em></p>

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6 habits of people who don’t get sick

<p>Winter is a dangerous time. Although cold temperatures themselves don’t cause us to get sick, our winter habits invite the spread of germs and risk of contagion is high.</p> <p>If you find yourself sick every winter, here are some useful habits of those healthy people to take up.</p> <p><strong>1. They get enough sleep</strong></p> <p>It’s easy to experience disrupted sleep during winter. When air is too cold, it will negatively affect melatonin production and cause the body's sleep cycle to be disrupted. However, research shows that people who sleep only five to six hours a night have a 30 per cent chance of catching a cold when exposed to the virus; those who get more than seven hours reduce their risk to 17 per cent.</p> <p><strong>2. They pay extra attention to hygiene</strong></p> <p>With more germs in the air, now is the time to stay conscious about where they may be festering. Key areas include bathroom door handles, taps, fridges, elevator buttons and public transport. Keep antibacterial wipes on you so whenever you touch a high risk surface, you can cleanse you hand before eating, or touching your face and eyes.</p> <p><strong>3. They exercise regularly</strong></p> <p>Winter is notorious for zapping our work-out motivation. However, exercise strengthens the immune system and makes you less likely to catch upper respiratory infections.</p> <p><strong>4. The get their flu shot</strong></p> <p>Flu shots, approved for all adults, are effective 50 to 60 per cent of the time in preventing the flu and may also reduce the severity of symptoms.</p> <p><strong>5. They don’t smoke</strong></p> <p>Cigarette smoke appears to damage the mucus membranes, which act as the frontline barrier to infectious agents, making smokers twice as likely to catch a cold and several times more likely to develop the flu.</p> <p><strong>6. They enjoy a drink</strong></p> <p>Harvard University School of Public Health researchers found that red wine was particularly protective against colds, probably due to the anti-inflammatory action of the phenol, resveratrol. Just keep in mind that drinking more than two glasses a day raises the risk for infections.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

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Parents' grim warning after losing 3-year-old to flu

<p>Doctors have issued a crucial warning for parents after a healthy and happy Perth toddler became the youngest person in Western Australia to die from the flu in 2023.</p> <p>Muhammed Saadiq Segaff is being remembered as a cheerful but cheeky boy after dying from a strain of the flu virus, influenza A.</p> <p>The three-year-old’s health rapidly declined at Fiona Stanley Hospital, located about 16km from the state's capital, where the toddler went from having difficulty breathing to cardiac arrest.</p> <p>As a result, he underwent open heart surgery before being transported to Perth’s Children's Hospital where doctors and nurses had to use a machine to keep Muhammed’s blood pumping during the transfer.</p> <p>Yet despite their best efforts, they couldn’t save his life, with his parents making the painful decision to turn off his life support on May 26 after his family flew in from Singapore to say their goodbyes.</p> <p>Although influenza is a common virus, it can be fatal in high risk groups as it attacks the lungs, nose and throat.</p> <p>Typical symptoms include chills, fever, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches, with most fit and healthy people able to recover without seeing a doctor.</p> <p>However, young children, senior adults, unhealthy adults and pregnant women have an increased chance of contracting more severe cases due to being immunocompromised.</p> <p>Doctors advise getting a flu shot annually, but statistics are showing that the uptake of flu vaccines in WA in 2023 is slower than usual.</p> <p>“We have a significant and effective prevention strategy for flu, it’s a flu vaccine,” Perth Children’s Hospital infectious diseases specialist Chris Blyth told <em>7News</em>.</p> <p>Despite the chilling warning, less than 14 per cent of children under five have gotten the vaccination in WA, with a slimmer figure for those aged between five and 15 years old.</p> <p>Dr Blyth said about 10 per cent of children who are admitted to hospital with the flu require intensive care.</p> <p>Parents are advised to monitor children for unusual symptoms associated with the flu, such as breathlessness and fast breathing, which Dr Blyth warned could impact the heart.</p> <p>“Confusion or drowsiness is another important sign. Both of those things would make me want to seek medical advice,” he said.</p> <p>“In the middle of winter, our hospitals are full of people with respiratory illnesses but if parents think their child is much sicker than they normally are they should be seeking advice.”</p> <p>Muhammed’s parents hope that by sharing their son’s heartbreaking story, more parents will consider vaccinating their children against the flu annually.</p> <p>“No parents want this to happen to their own children,” Muhammed’s mother Shikin Hasnawi told <em>7News</em>.</p> <p>“We just miss him so much,” his father Segaff Sinin said.</p> <p>The WA government has extended its free flu vaccine rollout to children and seniors until the end of June in an attempt to encourage further uptake of the shot.</p> <p><em>Image credit: 7 News Perth</em></p>

Caring

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I’m over 65 and worried about the flu. Which vaccine should I have?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/magdalena-plebanski-1063786">Magdalena Plebanski</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jennifer-boer-1210047">Jennifer Boer</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/katie-louise-flanagan-1066858">Katie Louise Flanagan</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-tasmania-888">University of Tasmania</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kirsty-wilson-1103649">Kirsty Wilson</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p>Influenza, or the flu, is a virus transmitted by respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. It can cause the sudden onset of a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain.</p> <p>In Australia, the flu is responsible for <a href="https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/cda-cdi4004f.htm">more than 5,000 hospitalisation and 100 deaths</a> a year. The highest rates are among those over 65, whose immune systems aren’t as effective as they used to be, and children under five, whose immune systems are yet to mature.</p> <p>To combat the decline in immunity as we age, specific vaccines are available for people aged 65 and over. So how do they work, and why exactly are they needed?</p> <h2>Remind me, how does the immune system work?</h2> <p>The immune system uses multiple mechanisms to fight viral infections, which can be divided into two major arms of the immune system, called innate and adaptive immunity.</p> <p>Innate immunity involves multiple inflammatory cells and chemicals that are triggered immediately, or within hours of encountering an infection. They activate the immune system to clear the infection.</p> <p>Adaptive immunity takes a little longer (weeks) to work and involves memory T cells and antibody-producing B cells, which can be reactivated when the body encounters a virus or other pathogen.</p> <p>The combined innate and adaptive immune response determines how well we respond to an invading virus like influenza.</p> <h2>Why are older people more at risk from the flu?</h2> <p>Generally, as we age past 65, the innate cells become less effective at their job of clearing infections. They also start <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100616-060718">producing more inflammation</a>.</p> <p>New T and B cell numbers also decrease with increasing age and hence the adaptive immune response is also not as effective as when we are younger. This immune system decline is called immunosenescence, which leads to increased susceptibility, hospitalisation and death from influenza.Certain medical conditions, such as cancer and heart and lung conditions, increase susceptibility to severe influenza, with older people being more likely to have additional medical conditions than younger people.</p> <h2>What flu vaccines are available?</h2> <p><a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">Annual flu vaccines</a> are recommended to protect against the common circulating strains of influenza, which can differ from year to year.</p> <p>The standard flu vaccines offered to adults aged under 65 consist of surface proteins of the virus or inactivated (killed) virus from four influenza strains: two A strains (H1N1 and H3N2) and two B strains.</p> <p>When you’re vaccinated, your immune system makes antibodies from B cells which protect you if you become exposed to these strains of the virus.</p> <p>However, the standard influenza vaccine is less effective in older people. Two stronger or augmented vaccines have been made targeting this age group. They contain the same components as the standard vaccine, but one vaccine – called <a href="https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/ebs/picmi/picmirepository.nsf/pdf?OpenAgent&amp;id=CP-2020-CMI-01074-1&amp;d=20230529172310101">Fluad</a> – uses a strong adjuvant (an agent used to increase the immune response to vaccination) called MF59 to stimulate better immunity.</p> <p>The other augmented vaccine, called <a href="https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/ebs/picmi/picmirepository.nsf/pdf?OpenAgent&amp;id=CP-2020-CMI-02062-1">Fluzone</a>, uses a four-fold higher dose of each influenza strain to increase immunity.</p> <h2>How do they compare?</h2> <p><a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/73/11/e4251/5992287?login=false">Studies comparing Fluad and Fluzone</a> show both vaccines stimulate stronger immunity against influenza than the standard flu vaccine and are therefore likely to provide better protection.</p> <p>Studies directly testing for improved clinical outcomes with vaccines for over-65s show a small benefit of receiving either of the vaccines over the standard vaccine, including a modest decrease in lab-confirmed influenza, <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(17)30235-7/fulltext">hospitalisations</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7563546/">emergency department visits</a> compared to the standard influenza vaccine.</p> <p>They are however yet to show and impact on flu-related deaths.</p> <figure class="align-right "> </figure> <p>In the few studies comparing <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/73/11/e4251/5992287?login=false">Fluad and Fluzone directly</a>, there is little evidence of a difference between them in reducing influenza and serious flu outcomes. <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/atagi-advice-on-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2023">The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation therefore recommends</a> using either Fluad or Fluzone.</p> <p>While both have been Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved since 2020, only Fluad is available for free on the National Immunisation Program for people aged 65 and over.</p> <p>Fluzone is only available with a private prescription if you’re 60 years and over, at a cost of around A$65-70.</p> <p>If neither augmented vaccine is available, a standard influenza vaccine is also acceptable for older people, since any influenza vaccine is preferable to receiving none.</p> <p>Flu vaccines can also be given at the same time as COVID vaccines.</p> <h2>How else can we protect against the flu?</h2> <p>While influenza vaccination is the single most effective way of preventing influenza, other measures such as social distancing and wearing a mask or N95 respirator can also provide some <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5779801/">community protection</a>.</p> <p>Wearing a mask or N95 respirator significantly <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5779801/">reduces the risk</a> of infecting others when infected.</p> <p>The evidence for protecting oneself against infection is less conclusive, mainly because it’s linked to early, consistent and, importantly, the <a href="https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/influenza/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-setting-in-influenza-a-(h1n1)-outbreaks.pdf?sfvrsn=24a45a95_1&amp;download=true">correct use of masks</a>.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/204810/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/magdalena-plebanski-1063786">Magdalena Plebanski</a>, Professor of Immunology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jennifer-boer-1210047">Jennifer Boer</a>, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/katie-louise-flanagan-1066858">Katie Louise Flanagan</a>, Infectious Diseases Specialist and Clinical Professor, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-tasmania-888">University of Tasmania</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kirsty-wilson-1103649">Kirsty Wilson</a>, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/im-over-65-and-worried-about-the-flu-which-vaccine-should-i-have-204810">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Should I get a flu vaccine this year? Here’s what you need to know

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/paul-griffin-1129798">Paul Griffin</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-queensland-805">The University of Queensland</a></em></p> <p>After having low rates of influenza (flu) transmission in recent years thanks to our COVID control strategies, case numbers are now rising.</p> <p>So far this year, Australia has had <a href="https://www.immunisationcoalition.org.au/news-data/influenza-statistics/">more than 32,000</a> lab-confirmed cases of the flu and 32 deaths.</p> <p>Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect against getting the flu. These are reformulated each year to protect against the most widely circulating strains – if our predictions are right.</p> <p>Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the 2023 flu vaccine. But first, some flu basics.</p> <h2>What are the different types of flu?</h2> <p>There are two main types of influenza: influenza A and influenza B. On the surface of the influenza virus there are two main proteins, the hemagglutinin (HA or H) and neuraminidase (NA or N).</p> <p>Different strains are named after their versions of the H and N proteins, as in H1N1 or “swine flu”.</p> <figure class="align-center "><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=396&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=396&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=396&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=498&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=498&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/525044/original/file-20230509-15-c78c12.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=498&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="" /><figcaption><span class="caption">HA is the yellow spike, while the NA is the green oval.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class="source" href="https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/structure-influenza-virus-infographics-vector-illustration-542924464?src=ixiW0w-59I3I17RpN4L3wQ-1-12">Shutterstock</a></span></figcaption></figure> <p>Minor changes in the proteins (HA and NA) on the surface are common because the enzyme the virus uses to make copies of itself is prone to errors.</p> <p>Sometimes the influenza virus can change more abruptly when it mixes up components from different influenza viruses – including influenza viruses that typically infect birds, pigs or bats – to create a virus that’s basically new.</p> <p>The regular change in the virus is the reason the vaccine is updated every year. The <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/about-tga/advisory-bodies-and-committees/australian-influenza-vaccine-committee-aivc">Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee</a> meets late in the year to plan what should be included in the vaccine for the following season, after considering what happened in our last flu season and in the Northern hemisphere winter.</p> <h2>What strains does this year’s flu shot protect against?</h2> <p>Modern flu vaccines typically protect against four strains. For this year’s vaccine, the committee <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/publication/meeting-statements/aivc-recommendations-composition-influenza-vaccines-australia-2023">has recommended</a> it includes:</p> <ul> <li> <p>an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus</p> </li> <li> <p>an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus</p> </li> <li> <p>a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus</p> </li> <li> <p>a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.</p> </li> </ul> <p>The naming of the viral components can sometimes be confusing. The name is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm">derived from</a> the virus type (A or B)/the place it was first isolated/strain number/year isolated (virus subtype).</p> <p>This year’s vaccine therefore includes an influenza A virus similar to the 2009 pandemic-causing H1N1 isolated from Sydney in 2021 and a second influenza A virus (H3N2) isolated in Darwin in 2021.</p> <p>Influenza B viruses are classified into 2 lineages: Victoria and Yamagata. This year’s vaccine includes an influenza B isolated from Austria in 2021 (Victoria lineage) and an influenza B isolated in Phuket in 2013 (Yamagata lineage).</p> <h2>Who should get a flu shot?</h2> <p>Health authorities <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine">recommend</a> everyone aged six months of age or over should get the flu vaccine every year.</p> <p><a href="https://www.health.gov.au/news/2023-national-immunisation-program-influenza-vaccination-early-advice-for-vaccination-providers">Some groups</a> are at greater risk of significant disease from the flu and can access the flu vaccine for free. This includes:</p> <ul> <li> <p>Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over</p> </li> <li> <p>children aged six months to five years</p> </li> <li> <p>pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy</p> </li> <li> <p>people aged 65 years or over</p> </li> <li> <p>people aged five years to 65 years who have certain underlying health conditions affecting the heart, lungs, kidneys or immune system, and those with diabetes.</p> </li> </ul> <h2>How can I get it?</h2> <p>You can get a flu shot from your local general practice or pharmacy. Or you may have an opportunity to get vaccinated at your workplace if your employer supplies it.</p> <p>While the vaccine is free for those in the <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-02/fighting-flu-starts-with-you-consumer-fact-sheet.pdf">above groups</a>, there can be a consultation or administration fee, depending on where you get your vaccine.</p> <p>If you aren’t eligible for a free vaccine, it usually costs around A$20-$30.</p> <h2>Are there different options?</h2> <p>For over 65s, whose immune systems may not work as well as when they were younger, a <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-03/atagi-advice-on-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2023.pdf">specific vaccine</a> is available that includes an adjuvant which boosts the immune response. This is free for over-65s under the national immunisation program.</p> <p>A high-dose vaccine is also available for people aged 60 and over. However this isn’t currently funded and costs around $70 on a private prescription.</p> <p>People with egg allergies can safely get the egg-based flu vaccine. However there is also a cell-based immunisation for people who don’t want a vaccine made in eggs. When vaccines are grown in eggs, sometimes the virus can change and this might affect the level of protection. Cell-based vaccines aim to address this issue.</p> <p>The cell-based vaccine isn’t funded so patients will pay around $40 for a private prescription.</p> <h2>How well do they work?</h2> <p>The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on how well the strains in the vaccine match those circulating. It generally <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/aisr-2022-national-influenza-season-summary">reduces</a> the chance of being admitted to hospital with influenza by <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2022/08/influenza-vaccine-efficacy-effectiveness-and-impact-explained.docx">30-60%</a>.</p> <h2>What are the side effects?</h2> <p>You can’t get the flu from the vaccine as there’s no live virus in it.</p> <p>When people get a flu-like illness after the vaccine, it can be due to mild effects we sometimes see after vaccination, such as headaches, tiredness or some aches and pains. These usually go away <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine#possible-side-effects-of-influenza-vaccination">within a day or two</a>.</p> <p>Alternatively, symptoms after getting a flu shot may be due to another respiratory virus such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that circulates in winter.</p> <h2>When’s the best time to get your flu shot?</h2> <p>The vaccine provides <a href="https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/contents/vaccine-preventable-diseases/influenza-flu#vaccine-information">peak protection</a> around three to four months <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine#when-to-get-the-influenza-vaccine">after</a> you get it.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.immunisationcoalition.org.au/news-data/influenza-statistics/">peak of the flu season</a> is usually between June and September, however this changes every year and can vary in different parts of the country.</p> <p>Given this, the best time to get the vaccine is usually around late April or early May. So if you haven’t already, now would be a good time to get it.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/203406/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/paul-griffin-1129798">Paul Griffin</a>, Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-queensland-805">The University of Queensland</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/should-i-get-a-flu-vaccine-this-year-heres-what-you-need-to-know-203406">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Are flu cases already 100 times higher than last year? Here’s what we really know about the 2023 flu season

<p>Alarming <a href="https://www.9news.com.au/national/flu-cases-australia-update-warning-vulnerable-numbers-rise-100-fold-last-year/55ccbb1d-9613-4e45-85aa-43c905efc8e6">headlines</a> and media coverage <a href="https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/the-flu-nearly-disappeared-during-the-pandemic-now-cases-are-soaring-in-australia/a98cybrj8">have said</a> we’ve had 100 times as many influenza cases in the first two months of 2023 compared with the same time the previous year.</p> <p>The coverage suggested we’re in for a bumper flu season, starting early and your best protection was to get a flu vaccine, when available.</p> <p>But that scary sounding 100 figure is misleading. Here’s what’s behind the figures and what we can really expect from the 2023 flu season.</p> <h2>Comparing apples with oranges</h2> <p>In the first two months of 2023, there were 8,474 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza. In 2022, over the same period, there were 79 cases.</p> <p>So it might seem this year’s figures are indeed more than 100 times higher than last year’s. But we shouldn’t be alarmed. That’s because in early 2022, influenza cases were artificially low.</p> <p>Strict COVID measures <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/379/bmj.o2998">almost eliminated</a> influenza outbreaks in 2020 and 2021. Shutting international borders, quarantining, social distancing and mask-wearing stopped influenza coming into the country and spreading.</p> <p>Many COVID restrictions weren’t relaxed until late February/March 2022. So, in January and February of that year there were fewer opportunities for us to mingle and spread the influenza virus. It’s hardly surprising there were few cases then.</p> <p>In fact, the rate of flu in 2023 is actually very similar to pre-COVID years (that is before 2020).</p> <p>As always, the reported cases represent just a fraction of the actual influenza cases. That’s because many people do not seek medical care when infected with influenza or their GP doesn’t always test them for it.</p> <h2>How about an earlier flu season?</h2> <p>Every year, it seems, influenza throws a new curve ball making predictions tricky.</p> <p>Flu rates in the northern hemisphere <a href="https://www.cnet.com/health/medical/early-signs-point-to-this-years-flu-season-being-the-worst-one-in-years/">largely peaked</a> in December 2022, two months earlier than usual.</p> <p>But there has been some late-season influenza B activity in the northern hemisphere this year. This is one type of influenza that causes seasonal flu. So travellers arriving/returning from the northern hemisphere have been bringing influenza to Australia for several months.</p> <p>So we expect more cases of influenza. Australia may even have an autumn surge. This occurred <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/379/bmj.o2998">last year</a>, where influenza cases rose sharply in May, and peaked by June. That’s two months earlier than the five-year average pre-COVID.</p> <p>Before COVID, influenza cases usually began to rise in April/May. This progressed to a full epidemic from June to August, often extending into September, before waning in October.</p> <h2>So what can we expect in 2023?</h2> <p>The start, length and severity of influenza seasons vary and are often unpredictable.</p> <p>Community immunity will be less than in pre-COVID times. That’s because of fewer influenza infections during COVID restrictions plus <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-all-people">lower influenza vaccine uptake</a> in recent years.</p> <p>So the 2023 flu season may be at least moderately severe. This remains speculation. Flu routinely surprises us.</p> <p>The severity of the coming Australian influenza season will be influenced by the types of influenza that circulate, when the surge starts and when the season peaks. The effectiveness, uptake and timing of vaccinations and the degree of remaining herd immunity will all be important.</p> <h2>Plan to get vaccinated</h2> <p>Only about 40% of those eligible were vaccinated against influenza in 2022, according to the <a href="https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/australian-immunisation-register">Australian Immunisation Register</a> database. Rates <a href="https://ncirs.org.au/influenza-vaccination-coverage-data/national-influenza-vaccination-coverage-all-people">were highest</a> in people aged 65 or older.</p> <p>However, as we saw an early influenza season in 2022 (peaking in May/June) this meant many Australians were not vaccinated during the early stages of the epidemic.</p> <p>With this knowledge, it’s important to be vaccinated in April/May before influenza becomes common.</p> <p>Now is a good time to start preparing to get your flu vaccine. Ask your GP or pharmacist when you can book yourself in.</p> <p>Vaccination is our best defence against influenza and is recommended from the age of <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/news/2023-national-immunisation-program-influenza-vaccination-early-advice-for-vaccination-providers">6 months</a>. Younger infants <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/influenza-vaccination-in-pregnancy">receive protection</a> if their mum was vaccinated during pregnancy.</p> <p>The 2023 vaccine has been updated to protect against more recently circulating strains. There are also <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-03/atagi-advice-on-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2023.pdf">different types</a> of influenza vaccine, some more effective in elderly people, some free under the <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/national-immunisation-program-schedule?language=en">National Immunisation Program</a>, some not. Other vaccines are available for people with egg allergies and for small children. It’s best to discuss the vaccine options with your GP or pharmacist.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/are-flu-cases-already-100-times-higher-than-last-year-heres-what-we-really-know-about-the-2023-flu-season-201559" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a></em></p>

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URGENT RECALL of 44 different cough medicines

<p>Numerous cough medicines containing pholcodine are being stripped from pharmacy shelves after a safety investigation was undertaken by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).</p> <p>55 products are being cancelled from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.</p> <p>Of the 55 products containing pholcodine that were registered in Australia, 44 products are currently stocked on shelves in pharmacies and are subject to the recall, a spokesperson from the TGA told 7News.</p> <p>The discovery of a new link between pholcodine-containing medicines and an increased risk of anaphylactic reactions to certain medicines used as muscle relaxants during general anaesthesia prompted the action.</p> <p>Pholcodine has been used in a wide range of over-the-counter medicines to treat dry coughs, particularly present in syrups and lozenges. It is also used in combination with other medicines in products that treat the symptoms of cold and flu.</p> <p>“It is difficult to reliably predict who may be at risk of anaphylaxis during anaesthesia and some patients may not know if they have taken pholcodine medicines recently,” TGA Head Adjunct Professor John Skerritt said.</p> <p>“Some patients undergoing emergency surgery may not be in a position to talk to their anaesthetist at all. In addition, while surgical facilities may ask about which prescription medicines a patient is taking, they may not ask about over-the-counter products.</p> <p>“Fortunately, safer alternatives to treat a dry cough are available and consumers should ask their doctor or pharmacist for advice. I urge consumers to check if any of your over-the-counter cold and flu medicines contain pholcodine and, if they do, ask your doctor or pharmacist to suggest an alternative treatment.</p> <p>“If you will need general anaesthesia and have taken pholcodine in the past 12 months, I advise you to tell your health professional. Health professionals should also check whether patients scheduled to undergo general anaesthesia have used pholcodine in the previous 12 months.”</p> <p>The European Medicines Agency (EMA) had recently recommended the withdrawal of marketing authorisations for these products in Europe, prompting the review in Australia.</p> <p>Supported by a Western Australia study, the European findings showed that pholcodine was a risk factor.</p> <p>The TGA has received 50 reports of Australian cases of suspected pholcodine-related anaphylactic reactions to neuromuscular blockers, including one fatality earlier this year.</p> <p>Find the full list of recalled products <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/safety/information-about-specific-safety-alerts-and-recalls/about-pholcodine-cough-medicines-cancelled-tga-and-recalled-pharmacies-safety-reasons" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Getty</em></p>

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What is my PCR test testing for?

<p>As <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/australia/2022-flu-season-australia-influenza/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">COVID and flu collide</a> to create a <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid-changing-flu-season-flurona/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">winter of sick days</a>, it’s not obvious <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/australia/explainer-do-i-have-covid-or-flu/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">which illness you have</a>. And some people undergoing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for COVID have discovered that their samples are also being tested for influenza and other bugs.</p> <p>How does this work, and where are COVID tests being used to find more than just COVID?</p> <p>At this point, we’re all well-versed on the <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/rise-of-rapid-antigen-testing/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">different COVID tests you can get</a> – RATs can be done at home but are less accurate, while <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/what-is-pcr/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">PCR tests</a> are more reliable.</p> <p>In brief, PCR tests work by identifying and amplifying viral DNA or RNA.</p> <p>If you’re looking for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, you add a <em>primer</em> (a specific type of DNA) for SARS-CoV-2 to the sample and it amplifies the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the sample. (You can learn about PCR tests in more detail in <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/what-is-pcr/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">these</a> <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/how-is-rt-pcr-used-to-diagnose-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">articles</a>.)</p> <div class="newsletter-box"> <div id="wpcf7-f6-p196191-o1" class="wpcf7" dir="ltr" lang="en-US" role="form"> <form class="wpcf7-form mailchimp-ext-0.5.62 spai-bg-prepared init" action="/health/pcr-covid-influenza-rsv/#wpcf7-f6-p196191-o1" method="post" novalidate="novalidate" data-status="init"> <p style="display: none !important;"><span class="wpcf7-form-control-wrap referer-page"><input class="wpcf7-form-control wpcf7-text referer-page spai-bg-prepared" name="referer-page" type="hidden" value="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/" data-value="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/" aria-invalid="false" /></span></p> <p><!-- Chimpmail extension by Renzo Johnson --></form> </div> </div> <p>Looking for influenza uses the same trick: you just use an influenza primer rather than one for SARS-CoV-2. The DNA primer added has a different “code”, but all the other parts of the test and equipment used to do it are the same.</p> <p>You can also use PCR to find other viruses that cause cold symptoms – like rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV), or adenoviruses.</p> <p>All of these tests can be undertaken using the same original swab sample.</p> <p>If it’s possible to test for all these viruses with PCR, why haven’t we been doing so until recently? Many of us over the past two years have used a PCR test to establish we don’t have COVID, but we definitely have <em>something</em>.</p> <p>Testing for a variety of things is often done on healthcare workers or people with specific vulnerabilities, but most people don’t benefit from knowing whether they’re sick with a rhinovirus or an adenovirus. Additional tests use additional resources for little advantage.</p> <p>However, with the unusually early arrival of the flu season, it has become more useful to monitor for influenza. Private providers, in particular, may check for viruses other than SARS-CoV-2, depending on the resources and government rebates available to them.</p> <p><!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --></p> <p><img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=196191&amp;title=What+is+my+PCR+test+testing+for%3F" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><!-- End of tracking content syndication --></p> <div id="contributors"> <p><em><a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/pcr-covid-influenza-rsv/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">This article</a> was originally published on <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cosmos Magazine</a> and was written by <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/contributor/ellen-phiddian" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ellen Phiddian</a>. Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.</em></p> <p><em>Image: Getty Images</em></p> </div>

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Why can you still get influenza if you’ve had a flu shot?

<p>Restrictions have eased, international borders are open and influenza is back in Australia after a two-year absence.</p> <p>Suddenly, major <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-08/medical-evacuations-as-flu-arrives-early-in-nt/101132294" target="_blank" rel="noopener">flu outbreaks</a> are occurring across the country, catching many off guard.</p> <p>Flu vaccinations aim to protect against four influenza viruses that cause disease in humans (two subtypes from influenza A and two from influenza B).</p> <p>But vaccine-mediated protection varies each year depending on how well the vaccine matches the disease-causing influenza viruses that are circulating at a given time. Vaccine effectiveness – a real-world measure based on the proportion of vaccinated people who still develop the flu – <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ranges</a> from <a href="https://www.clinicaltrialsarena.com/comment/us-flu-vaccine-efficacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">16%</a> to <a href="https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/cda-surveil-ozflu-flucurr.htm/%24File/Vacc-efficacy-effect-impact-Oct18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">60%</a>.</p> <p>However, it’s still important to get your flu shot. If you’ve been vaccinated and still get the flu, you’re <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">less likely</a> to get as sick.</p> <h2>Why it’s difficult to predict which subtypes will dominate</h2> <p>Of the four types of influenza viruses that exist in nature, two cause significant disease in humans: influenza A and influenza B.</p> <p>The 2022 influenza vaccine is quadrivalent (targets four distinct viruses): two influenza A viruses (subtypes H3N2 and H1N1) and two influenza B viruses from distinct lineages.</p> <p>Within each flu A subtype further genetic variation can arise, with mutations (known as genetic drift) generating many viral variants that are classified into “clades” and sub-clades.</p> <p>H3N2 is particularly good at generating lots of diversity in this way. So predicting exactly which H3N2 virus to target in the vaccine is especially difficult.</p> <p>A key challenge for flu vaccines is the decision for which virus to target has to be made months ahead of time. The the H3N2 virus in the Australian flu vaccine (A/Darwin/9/2021) was chosen in September 2021 to enable the vaccine to be manufactured and distributed in time for the 2022 winter.</p> <p>There is no guarantee a different H3N2 virus that isn’t so well targeted by the vaccine won’t arrive in the country in the months leading into winter and start causing disease.</p> <p>Another factor that has made predicting which H3N2 virus to target in the vaccine uniquely difficult for 2022 is the lack of data on which viruses were dominant in the preceding flu seasons, both in Australia and on the other side of the Equator.</p> <p>With travel restrictions easing towards the end of 2021, flu cases did start to reappear during the northern hemisphere 2021-22 winter. But the lack of flu cases during the preceding seasons (due to COVID) meant the data used to predict which viruses to target was inadequate.</p> <p>The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analysed data from more than 3,000 children and <a href="https://www.clinicaltrialsarena.com/comment/us-flu-vaccine-efficacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a vaccine effectiveness of just 16% protection from mild to moderate disease from H3N2. Protection from more severe disease was just 14%.</p> <h2>We don’t know which subtypes will circulate in Australia</h2> <p>Data about flu vaccine effectiveness in the southern hemisphere 2022 winter isn’t yet available, and it’s unclear how protective the current vaccine is against the currently circulating disease-causing subtypes.</p> <p>While H3N2 viruses appears to be <a href="https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/cda-surveil-ozflu-flucurr.htm/%24File/flu-05-2022.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">driving some disease now</a>, other flu viruses may become more prevalent later in the season.</p> <p>The flu vaccine is a quadrivalent vaccine, so in addition to influenza A H3N2, it will protect against another influenza A subtype (H1N1) and two distinct lineages of influenza B virus. These viruses don’t change as rapidly as H3N2, so it’s more likely the vaccine will give better protection against these other influenza viruses.</p> <p>Even if vaccine protection against H3N2 is lower than usual this year, the vaccine <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">could make the difference</a> between recovering at home versus ending up in hospital.</p> <h2>So who should get a flu shot and when?</h2> <p>The flu vaccine offers the highest level of protection in the first three to four months months after vaccination. The season <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">generally peaks</a> between June and September – although this year we have seen a much earlier than usual start to the flu season. It’s unclear whether this early start will mean a longer flu season or an early finish. So it’s not too late to get vaccinated.</p> <p>Flu vaccines <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/vaccines/influenza-flu-vaccine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">are recommended</a> for everyone aged six months and over, but are particularly important for people who are more at risk of complications from influenza, including:</p> <ul> <li>Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over</li> <li>children aged six months to five years</li> <li>pregnant women</li> <li>people aged 65 years or over</li> <li>people aged six months or over who have medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of getting serious disease.</li> </ul> <h2>What if you still get the flu?</h2> <p>If you develop flu symptoms, isolate and <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/flu-influenza#diagnosis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">see your GP</a> for an influenza PCR test to determine whether you are indeed infected with influenza, particularly if you’re in the higher-risk groups.</p> <p>Specific antivirals for influenza <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/flu-influenza#treatment" target="_blank" rel="noopener">can help</a>, if given early. To ensure rapid access to particularly vulnerable aged-care residents, aged-care facilities are being <a href="https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/plans-ramp-up-for-tamiflu-deployment-in-aged-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener">stocked</a> with the flu antiviral drug Tamiflu.</p> <p>In New South Wales, free <a href="https://www.newsofthearea.com.au/4cyte-drive-through-covid-19-testing-centres-to-conduct-conduct-influenza-and-rsv-testing-94671" target="_blank" rel="noopener">drive-through clinics</a> now offer testing for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. Other states and territories may follow.</p> <p><em><strong><span id="docs-internal-guid-b2ed596f-7fff-517f-5af4-3572469f8c42">This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-can-you-still-get-influenza-if-youve-had-a-flu-shot-184327" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>.</span></strong></em></p> <p><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p>

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What you need to know about this year’s flu season

<p dir="ltr">Two years of pandemic-induced lockdowns has resulted in unusually fewer cases of flu - but as we head into winter, the accompanying flu season is shaping up to be a rough one according to experts.</p> <p dir="ltr">To help Aussies prepare for the upcoming sniffle season, Associate Professor Michelle Tate, an influenza expert from Monash University, has answered some common questions about the sneeze-inducing virus.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Is it the flu or just a bad cold?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Though both are caused by viruses, the flu and common cold are caused by two different types - the influenza and rhinovirus respectively - and cause slightly different symptoms.</p> <p dir="ltr">If you have a runny nose, sore throat and mild to moderate discomfort, it’s likely that you have the common cold.</p> <p dir="ltr">If you’re feeling fatigued, weak, or have a sudden fever, headache or chills, you’re more likely to have the flu. Unlike catching a cold, coming down with the flu can be quite debilitating and see you stay in bed for several days.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Is the flu dangerous?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">If you think you have the flu, Associate Professor Tate says you should reach out to your GP as soon as possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many people think that there is nothing medically available to treat the flu. However, doctors can prescribe antiviral drugs that can make the infection milder and shorten the time you are sick - if taken within the first two days following the onset of symptoms,” she <a href="https://www.scimex.org/newsfeed/flu-season-2022-what-you-need-to-know" target="_blank" rel="noopener">explains</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">On average, around 800 people die from the flu in Victoria each year, with 2022 already seeming to be highly affecting people aged 15-24.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Severe influenza virus infections are associated with an overwhelming reaction by the immune system, resulting in what is called a ‘cytokine storm’,” Associate Professor Tate says.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is often an overreaction of the immune system rather than the virus itself that causes symptoms such as fever and sometimes fatal disease, including multi-organ failure.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Should I get vaccinated against the flu?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">The short answer: yes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Vaccination against the flu is particularly recommended for people with underlying conditions such as asthma, pregnant women, the elderly and health workers,” Associate Professor Tate explains.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s even more worthwhile this year, because herd immunity is low as we haven’t been exposed to flu the last couple of years due to social distancing. Because of this, we are now seeing higher than normal numbers of cases.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As a result of this reduction in herd immunity - the idea that a large proportion of the community is immune to a disease, preventing a disease from spreadly to as many people and protecting those who aren’t immune - all age groups are vulnerable to the flu this year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Additionally, we are seeing cases of flu and COVID-19, which is referred to as ‘flurona’,” Associate Professor Tate adds.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Why do I need the flu jab every year?</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">With the rapid evolution of COVID-19 and appearance of new variants, calling for us to get booster vaccines and potentially be vaccinated every winter, it’s a little easier to see why the same would apply for the flu, with the vaccine targeting three common types of the virus.</p> <p dir="ltr">Associate Professor Tate adds that our immune protection declines over time, “so an annual vaccination is needed to get the best protection against the flu”.</p> <p><span id="docs-internal-guid-6a0a9b39-7fff-314c-b3c5-e0cf4cae5f00"></span></p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image: Getty Images</em></p>

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'Flurona' now circulating around Australia

<p>Australians are urged to be vigilant for so-called “flurona” infections. A leading doctor has dispelled some common misconceptions.</p> <p>Flurona made headlines earlier this month after a Victorian woman died after being diagnosed with both COVID and the flu.</p> <p>Experts say there’s a heightened possibility people could be infected simultaneously as we enter the colder months.</p> <p>Dr Nirvana Luckraj, the Chief Medical Officer at national public health information service Healthdirect, says flurona was commonly misconceived as a new virus.</p> <p>In reality, she said, it’s a “non-medical term” that means someone has flu and COVID at the same time.</p> <p>“With COVID continuing to circulate in the community and cases still high in some states, combined with the predicted flu season we are expecting now that restrictions have eased, it’s quite possible that a person could have flu and COVID at the same time,” she said.</p> <p>“It’s something we want to prevent as these are both potentially severe illnesses and combined would be particularly serious.”</p> <p>Vaccination is the key to avoiding serious illness, she said, and to not expect your COVID jabs to have any impact on the flu.</p> <p>“The flu vaccine is specifically designed for flu virus and COVID vaccines for COVID – they don’t protect against each other so it’s important to get both vaccines for best prevention this winter.</p> <p>“Vaccines are one of the most important and simple measures we can take to keep ourselves, our families and communities healthy.”</p> <p>Cases of the flu have been jumping across Australia, with COVID cases also remaining stubbornly high. In New South Wales alone, there were 2000 cases of the flu reported in the week ending May the 7th, almost doubling from the week earlier.</p> <p>How do you know if you have the flu, COVID, or both?</p> <p>Dr Luckraj said there were many similarities, given they’re both contagious respiratory diseases.</p> <p>However, COVID appears to be more contagious.</p> <p>“You really can’t tell or self-diagnose by just symptoms alone, so it’s important to get tested for COVID to know for sure,” she said.</p> <p>“If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms.</p> <p>“However, if you have more severe symptoms such as breathing difficulties, an intense headache, are unable to keep down fluids or if you’re just concerned you should speak to your doctor or call Healthdirect to speak to a registered nurse who can help advise next steps.”</p> <p><em>Image: Getty</em></p>

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13 foods doctors eat when they have a cold

<p>That age-old advice is dead-on: when you’re sick, your body needs extra fuel in the form of kilojoules to defend against germs and mount an immune response. “What you eat can be one of the best weapons in your arsenal,” says pulmonologist, Dr Gustavo Ferrer. The right nutrients can give your immune system a much-needed boost, help clear up some of those irritating symptoms, and get you back on your feet faster. Doctors shared their favourite home remedies when they feel a cold coming on – and some of their recommendations may surprise you.</p> <p><strong>Chicken soup</strong></p> <p>It’s not just for your soul – chicken soup may actually help fight upper respiratory tract infections, according to an older, but classic study published in the journal Chest that looked at how immune cells responded in the laboratory. “When we get attacked by a virus, our natural defences can cause an inflammatory response,” says Dr Ferrer. Some combination of ingredients in the soup may inhibit the white blood cell activity that can cause inflammation.</p> <p><strong>Strawberries</strong></p> <p>These berries are brimming with antioxidant power – they’re among the top 20 richest fruits when it comes to free radical slaying compounds – particularly vitamin C. And last year, a study in the journal Nutrients found that getting up to eight grams of vitamin C a day can help shorten the length of a cold. Adding a cup of sliced strawberries to your smoothie will net you about 100 milligrams of vitamin C.</p> <p><strong>Garlic</strong></p> <p>This potent bulb contains a compound known as allicin, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help fight off the common cold. Chopping or crushing garlic activates this compound, so for maximum results, prep it and let it sit for several minutes before eating it. In research published in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, people who took a garlic supplement daily reported fewer colds over a three-month span than those who popped a placebo.</p> <p><strong>Honey</strong></p> <p>Sore throat? The sticky, sweet nectar was found to be superior to many over-the-counter cough suppressants, Dr Ferrer says. For a soothing elixir that’s the bee’s knees, combine honey with lemon juice for a little vitamin C antioxidant action, he adds.</p> <p><strong>Carrots</strong></p> <p>These may be one of the ingredients that give chicken soup its curative properties. Carrots and other orange-hued produce contain beta-carotene. Your body converts this compound to vitamin A, a building block of your immune system, says Dr Eudene Harry.</p> <p><strong>Onions</strong></p> <p>These aromatics contain quercetin, an antioxidant with antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. “A lot of the symptoms you get when you’re sick is your body hyper-responding to things that are not necessarily a threat,” says Dr Harry. “Antioxidants help quell some of that response so it doesn’t get out of control. They remove waste products and reduce inflammation,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Capsicum</strong></p> <p>Research shows that being cold may suppress your immune system a bit, but vitamin C has natural immune-boosting properties. Loading up on C-rich foods can be a good way to compensate for a suppressed immune function during the chillier months, Dr Harry says. A cup of chopped capsicum has two times as much vitamin C as a medium orange.</p> <p><strong>Green tea</strong></p> <p>Fluids are important when you’re sick because, Dr Harry says, “Everything works better when you’re hydrated.” Green tea is a good choice because it contains the potent antioxidants catechins, along with theanine, an amino acid. Both have been linked to immunity, research shows.</p> <p><strong>Ginger</strong></p> <p>If the dreaded stomach flu is going around, stock up on this relieving root. It’s known for its anti-nausea properties. It also contains compounds known as gingerols that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which makes it an ideal addition to a cup of tea for soothing a sore throat. Dr Harry likes to take hers with ginger, pomegranate and lemon.</p> <p><strong>Mushrooms</strong></p> <p>These fungi are one of the few edible sources of vitamin D, which we normally get from the sun. Shorter daylight hours during the autumn and winter months can mean we’re not getting enough of that nutrient, which can open the door to lowered immunity. Mushrooms don’t naturally contain that much vitamin D, but if they are grown in the presence of ultraviolet light they will produce more. (Check the package for actual content of vitamin D.)</p> <p>Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, may help in this regard, says associate professor of medicine, Dr Gerard Mullin.  A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that people who ate 5 or 10 grams of shiitake mushrooms a day had improved markers of immunity, including better-functioning gamma delta T cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins in their blood.</p> <p><strong>Hot sauce</strong></p> <p>A big hit of wasabi or sriracha can feel like it’s clearing your sinuses even when you’re not sick – and it turns out, that could very well be the case. A Cochrane review of research on nasal sprays containing capsaicin, the active compound in chilli peppers and other spicy foods, improves symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis (aka sneezing, congestion) better than a placebo, possibly because of its anti-inflammatory effect. Plus, spicy peppers are another good source of vitamin C.</p> <p><strong>Turmeric</strong></p> <p>Spiking your coffee with this spice, aka a golden latte, won’t hurt. Curcumin, the active compound in the vibrant yellow powder, has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. “Oxidative stress goes up when your body is under attack,” says Dr Mullin. That can cause residual damage beyond what the invading germs cause. Turmeric, he says, can help with that.</p> <p>YoghurtFermented dairy products may not be your go-to when you’re feeling under the weather, but they should be, says Dr Mullin. “Most of your immune system is in your gut,” he explains, and probiotic-containing foods like yoghurt help keep your gastrointestinal tract teeming with healthy bacteria. Indeed, research has found that the benefits go beyond digestive health: a 2017 study in the journal Nutrients found that eating yoghurt daily increase the activity of killer T cells, whose job it is to destroy infected cells in the body. And there’s no evidence that dairy creates phlegm or contributes to congestion, so spoon away!</p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/healthsmart/13-foods-doctors-eat-when-they-have-a-cold" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader’s Digest</a>.</em></p>

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Three reasons you haven’t caught Covid yet

<p dir="ltr">Most of us have been in close contact with someone who contracted Covid but never tested positive ourselves.</p> <p dir="ltr">It raises questions as to why you would not test positive yourself despite being in the same room as a positive case, sharing food and drink despite how infectious the virus is.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are three possible reasons as to why you still haven’t caught Covid, despite the situation leaving doctors stumped. </p> <p dir="ltr">Australian National University lecturer and epidemiologist Dr Katrina Roper helps explain the three main reasons why some don’t test positive. </p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Common cold</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Before Covid, we’d all be exposed to the common cold which would help build immunity against other viruses. </p> <p dir="ltr">“Having a prior infection to another cold virus can confer some protection to Covid, or other respiratory viruses,” Dr Roper told <a href="https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/a-doctor-explains-why-you-havent-caught-covid-yet/news-story/d57a08a08278abf27f43c29fcfe87196" target="_blank" rel="noopener">news.com.au</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">”Exposure to other respiratory viruses can prime parts of the immune system, leading to better defence against infection by the SARS CoV-2 infection”.</p> <p dir="ltr">Research published in the Nature Communications journal in January 2022, confirmed the theory that being exposed to Covid won’t always cause an infection.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why,” lead author Dr Rhia Kundu wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Immunologist Professor Stuart Tangye insists that there’s also a possibility that you were infected with Covid but you didn’t know it. </p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Your immune system</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">When it comes to avoiding Covid it could be that your immune system is pretty strong, or the vaccine worked better for you. </p> <p dir="ltr">Dr Roper however did point out that it could also all depend on the individuals’ circumstance - such as their age, weight and how healthy they are.</p> <p dir="ltr">She noted that even the healthiest of people could still have weakened immune systems - citing professional athletes who push themselves and in turn feel worse afterwards. </p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The exposure</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Again, everyone has been exposed differently to Covid and while some may have contracted it, you didn’t. </p> <p dir="ltr">The circumstances of where you are could be affected such as a large house but only two people living there, giving you ample space to stay away despite sharing the same areas.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Genetics</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Tangye suggested a fourth reason as to why you haven’t contracted Covid despite your exposure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Put simply, your genetics. </p> <p dir="ltr">“There are going to be people who are less susceptible to viral infection because they have differences in their genes, such as genes that are important for viral entry into your cells,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p>

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