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  • Julie Cheney RN

Influenza - influences your lifespan

Have you ever said you coughed so hard you thought you could explode? Well I know what that means. Let me tell you a brief story. I was diagnosed with a large hole in my heart at 49 years of age. It caused me to have heart failure and atrial fibrillation (juddering in my heart rhythm). I had an operation on the hole and then 2 on the fibrillations and thought I was doing well. Then I got the flu (influenza). I didn't like to take the flu injection, even though I know its benefits. I was scared it would make me sick (never had, but I was still scared). So with the bout of flu came a serious chest infection. I coughed and coughed and coughed. I thought I would suffocate. And I did something else. I coughed so hard that the pressures in my chest caused my heart to start to fibrillate again. Back I went to the Cardiologist, more medications, more surgery, and another year of recovery and monitoring tests. So, now I get the flu injection every year!

There's a lot of mis-information about flu and the injections. The main thing to know is that flu is a very serious issue for older people and prevention by vaccine is the most effective way to reduce risk.

Here are some facts about Flu from the Qld Health fact sheet.

The disease

  • Influenza is a virus. This means it is small, complex, hard to kill, and mutates every year into a new version that previous immunity doesn't recognise.

  • Although most cases occur between June and September, more tropical areas can have it occur all year through.

  • Symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 days after becoming infected.

  • These might be: fever, sore throat, dry cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, tiredness or extreme exhaustion, and are unlikely to be the runny nose and sneezing you would see in a version of the common cold.

  • In elderly people many of these symptoms are hidden and instead might show as confusion, shortness of breath, or worsening of an existing chronic condition.

  • Because of the impact on older people who might already be having difficulty with doing everyday tasks, often the impact of flu is dehydration and poor dietary intake. This in turn impacts on their ability to fight the virus and it all concludes in very serious illness.

  • Elderly people avoiding crowded places during the peak of the season can reduce some risks.


  • Because influenza is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics, which are for bacteria. These are only useful if bacterial infection in your lungs occurs once a lot of fluid has accumulated.

  • Drinking lots of water and resting whilst the virus takes its course is still the best medicine.

  • Antiviral medications can slow it or reduce symptoms but only if taken within 48 hours of symptoms showing. (Remember what we said about the hidden symptoms in older people).


You've heard this over and over, but it's just so true. Prevention is the best way to stop the impact of flu.

  • Vaccination prevents the most likely type of flu version for the year.

  • Washing your hands before and after contact with an elderly person helps to reduce infection on your hands getting onto the person.

  • Not visiting when you have symptoms or suspect they might be starting, or when you have had contact with someone with the illness will reduce the risk to the older person. Think about it. How does a person who seldom goes out and has limited contact with others get an infection that is spread from person to person and through droplets in the air? Other people bring it in.

  • At the very least, wearing a mask if you suspect you have early symptoms, and coughing into a hanky or your sleeve can reduce the spread into the air. (then wash your hands again.)


  • The World Health Organisation chooses which varieties to target for us and they recommend the vaccines our doctors give each year.

  • Anyone over 65 years is eligible for the free vaccine.

  • We must have a new one each year because of new mutations and global travel.

  • After the vaccine you might get some achy muscles or joints, and headaches for a couple of days. This is a sign of your own immune system learning to fight the virus.

  • Drinking well before your vaccination, and keeping up your vitamin c rich foods just prior can give your immunity a hand to take it up quickly.

  • You should have it well before June, such as April or early May ideally. But if you haven't still get it anyway because 2017 version kept spreading well past September.

  • People in Residential Care Facilities are all entitled to have the vaccination and will be offered it through their visiting GPs. The facilities will seek permission from the residents or their guardians.

If you wish to know more about the Government campaign you can look it up at:

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