“As we enter the cooler months and see travel increase, we are seeing outbreaks of multiple respiratory diseases such as influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and ongoing COVID-19 transmission in the community. We’re also seeing outbreaks of diseases like Japanese encephalitis and monkey pox." warns Associate Professor Meru Sheel from the Sydney School of Public Health.
Dr Archana Koirala adds that “since March 2022, we have seen an increase in respiratory virus infections and hospitalisations in our community."
"In contrast to the past 2 years, we now also have the flu currently circulating at very high rates in our community, with 38,743 infection notifications and 3 influenza-related deaths nationally between March and May 2022."
Our experts suggest the most effective prevention measures to minimise the spread of respiratory diseases include washing your hands, staying at home when feeling unwell and staying up-to-date with vaccinations.
“Vaccination is safe and effective for the flu and COVID and can be given simultaneously.”
"The flu vaccine can be given to anyone above 6 months of age. It provides protection against flu infection and is shown to halve hospitalisation rates in children, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.” Dr Archana Koirala
With the cold and flu season comes a plethora of complementary medicines, including vitamins and supplements promoted for the prevention and treatment of the common cold and flu.
Dr Joanna Harnett, from the Sydney Pharmacy School, says that "ensuring access to a nutritionally adequate diet should be a first-line approach to optimising immune function. Where indicated, on an individual basis, supplements of these nutrients may be helpful in reducing the severity of the common cold and flu, however high doses, and long-term use of some may have a negative effect on immunity and health.”
When considering the use of vitamins and supplements, Dr Harnett suggests talking to a trained health professional.
"Making an informed decision about what medicines, including complementary medicines, are appropriate and safe to use is an important part of health and wellbeing.”
Adding that "most herbal-based products sold in Australia are approved by the TGA and promoted on the basis of traditional evidence of use with some of the more common herbs such as Echinacea, Elderberry and Andrographis shown to reduce the duration and severity of some symptoms.”
“As winter arrives, some humans do start to ‘hibernate’. This means they slow down physically, gain weight and experience low mood. That slowed-down and depressed state can last right through the winter months, and only start to shift with the onset of spring in late September." Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director at The Brain and Mind Centre.
“This is driven by changes in the body clock in winter and to protect against it, regular exercise and light exposure in June through to August is critical.”
Associate Professor Kate Edwards and Erika Goldbaum, from the Sydney School of Health Science, state the added benefits of staying active, including boosting antibody response to vaccines. “Our research suggests being physically active may be important for optimising vaccination outcomes because it is associated with a bigger increase in antibodies."
“Additionally, a short bout of exercise before a vaccination could add additional benefits to the immune response. Being physically active lowers your risk for non-communicable disease (like heart disease) and benefits communicable disease prevention (like influenza) – so it’s a win-win!”