PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM COVID-19 AND THE FLU
As we continue to deal with the impact of the pandemic, it’s understandable to feel more anxious about the flu this year, as it shares some of the same symptoms as COVID-19. But while your health concerns might be different given the current situation, the advice around keeping you and those around you healthy, even as the flu season winds down, stays the same.
Consider getting the flu shot
The flu vaccination doesn’t protect you from COVID-19, but it’s critical to protecting Australians from the flu.
"There are at least 4 good reasons to have the flu jab – and even more so because of COVID-19," says Professor Booy. "First, to prevent flu. Second, to prevent you from passing flu to someone else, especially a vulnerable person. Third, when you get the symptoms of flu, you might be very worried that it could be COVID-19, and you really don’t want to have that anxiety hanging over you." You should always get a COVID-19 test as soon as you experience any symptoms, regardless of whether you’ve had the flu jab.
Experts recommend that every Australian aged 6 months and older should have a flu vaccination every year. You can get up-to-date flu vaccines from your GP, community health clinics and some pharmacies. The shot is free through the National Immunisation Program Schedule for some people; private health insurance doesn’t cover it.
If you’re getting the flu vaccine, you need to make sure that there are at least 2 weeks in between having a flu vaccination and having a COVID-19 vaccination.
COVID-19 vaccination roll-out
The COVID-19 vaccination program is currently being rolled out across Australia. Getting vaccinated means, you’re helping to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the community. The vaccine offered to Aussies depends on when and where you’ll be vaccinated and the clinical guidelines that determine who each vaccine is safe for. Those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine can make a booking through the Government’s Vaccine Eligibility Checker and are encouraged to have a conversation with your doctor. The rules and guidelines are different in each state and territory, so it’s important to check the Government’s Vaccine Eligibility Checker and keep up to date with vaccine requirements.
Some people may spread either influenza or COVID-19 but show no symptoms. The following measures that are recommended to reduce the risk of catching or transmitting COVID-19 are also helpful in reducing the risk from influenza:
- Good hygiene by frequently washing your hands, coughing into your elbow and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects
- Social distancing by maintaining space from other people (especially those who are sick) and avoiding crowds
- Wearing your mask correctly by covering your nose and mouth. It’s also best practise to make sure the mask fits tightly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against your cheeks.
- Getting tested and staying home if you have any symptoms like a runny nose or sore throat - while this might be just the common cold, staying home protects others in the community, like people with compromised immune systems
- Self-isolating and testing as directed if you have COVID-19, have been in close contact with a confirmed case or have visited certain exposure sites.
Coronavirus or flu: telling the difference
If, despite your best efforts to stay healthy, you do feel unwell or develop symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 immediately at a testing clinic closest to your home and isolate until you receive a negative result. Use Healthdirect’s online coronavirus symptom checker for a list of symptoms.
"In regard to flu versus COVID-19, both viruses can cause issues with breathing," says Dr Billy Stoupas, GP and spokesperson for The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). "So anything along the respiratory tract can be affected…like your smell, your taste, your breathing patterns, cough, sneezing and running nose."
According to Professor Booy, the most important thing with coronavirus is to look for a dry cough, with fever, that progresses to shortness of breath.
It’s important to remember, though, that some people with COVID-19 have only a very mild case or show no symptoms of respiratory illnesses like coronavirus.
Getting medical advice
If you need medical advice, the National Coronavirus Helpline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 020 080. HCF members can also call our nurse helpline on 13 13 34 to speak to experienced nurses for expert health advice. If you are experiencing respiratory or flu or cold-like symptoms, the Department of Health advises you get tested immediately by visiting a testing clinic close to your home and isolate until you receive a negative result.
Looking after your mental wellbeing
Feeling worried about falling ill is normal. But according to the government’s Head to Health program, excessive worry can affect both your physical and mental health. If you’re concerned about your health or your family’s health in this uncertain time as restrictions start to ease, the program offers some practical tips around keeping organised and informed, staying engaged with others and ‘switching off’ from social media and news to tune out the ‘noise’.
Basically, during this time, check in with yourself and others, try to reduce stress and ask for support when you need it.
Talking to a doctor or mental health expert can help. All HCF members have access to online GP consultations through GP2U for free* for a limited time. See hcf.com.au/gp2u for offer end date. Eligible HCF members also have access to mental health professionals through our partner PSYCH2U+.
Where to find out more
No-one could have predicted what that last couple of years would bring. But it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together.
If you have more questions or need additional support, there are plenty of trusted sources with easy to understand information and advice.
- Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service offers a range of online support resources, as well as discussion forums. The organisation also has the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Line on 1800 512 348.
- If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- The Australian Government Department of Health has a number of COVID-19 resources both for native English speakers and in languages other than English.
- Always consult your doctor if you’re concerned about your health.
Words by Rosannah Snelson
Updated September 2021
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*Some members may be eligible for Medicare benefits for a telehealth consultation with GP2U, in which case GP2U will bulk-bill those members. For mental health services, you will need a mental healthcare plan from your GP to access support. For all other services, HCF will pay the GP2U consultation fee for a limited time. See hcf.com.au/gp2u.
+Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for at least 2 months. Other eligibility criteria apply.
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