If there were any positives to come out of the past 2 years living through a pandemic, it was that the annual flu season seemed to be non-existent. While for some, flu means a few days off work, a headache and a tight chest, for vulnerable groups it can be deadly. Every year influenza kills about 10,000 people of five years and older in South Africa, and annually causes millions of cases of severe illness globally resulting hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Just like COVID-19, flu virus transmission is prevented through masking, physical distancing, avoiding poorly ventilated indoor areas, good hand hygiene and isolating. This explains why the past 2 flu seasons seem to have been so mild.
Yet, as the ‘state of disaster’ ends, schools return to full-time in person learning, and mask mandates are relaxed, this 2022 flu season could be intense.
So how to how you can keep yourself healthy this flu season and prevent the double whammy?
As temperatures drop, and social gatherings move in from outdoors, the risk of flu and COVID-19 transmission increases. While there is evidence that the virus that causes the flu is happiest in cold, dry temperatures, it is also possible that flu cases spike in winter because people simply spend more time indoors, being closer to others, and with their windows closed. Colder weather and darker days also mean less opportunity for outdoor activity, and more time spent on a warm and comfy couch with a sweet treat in hand.
With that in mind, and the knowledge that flu season may be back at full strength this year, consider the following ways to stay healthy throughout winter (and beyond!):
- Get vaccinated: you can have your flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. A COVID-19 vaccine won’t prevent you from getting the flu, and vice versa, but both will support your own immune system and thereby also help to protect vulnerable groups.
- Spend time outdoors, wash your hands and don’t unnecessarily touch your face – this applies not only to preventing COVID-19 and the flu, but literally applies to every other illness as well.
- Keep your body in shape – eat well, move more, and prioritise your sleep, regardless of what the weather is doing outside.
- Manage your stress – stress hormones have an annoying habit of impairing the effective functioning of your immune system. Become aware of your stress and learn some practical coping techniques.