Experts are warning that the coming flu season could be a doozy. That’s because Australia is just wrapping up their winter with a dreadful influenza experience. Compared to last year, there were far more cases and they were more severe. North America often follows a similar pattern.
How Australia’s Experience Might Foretell the Coming Flu Season:
One possible reason that more people in Australia caught the flu is that the vaccine might have been less effective than normal. In a typical season, the flu shot works about 40 percent of the time. But preliminary analysis suggests that this year’s vaccine was only 15 to 20 percent effective.
Americans will be depending upon the same influenza vaccine that was used in Australia. Researchers have not yet determined whether the vaccine is a good match for the circulating flu strains.
Avoiding the Flu:
We have written about influenza vaccination here and here. Public health officials assert that getting vaccinated is the best protection against the flu. They also urge people to be super-conscientious about hand-washing. That’s good advice, but neither tactic is guaranteed to prevent an influenza infection.
There are antiviral medicines such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) that can shorten the amount of time a person suffers from flu symptoms. These drugs can also be used to prevent the flu if someone else in the household has become ill.
Sometimes vitamin D supplements are recommended to help prevent influenza. Unfortunately, a recent study from Canada did not show any advantage of high-dose vitamin D supplements over the basic dose of 400 IU in warding off flu (Aglipay et al, JAMA, July 18, 2017). That said, it is important not to become deficient.
Don’t become deficient in zinc, either. Scientists know that zinc is important in the immune system’s defense against flu (Fu et al, Journal of Experimental Medicine, Apr. 3, 2017). The connection is more complicated than just taking a zinc supplement, but it is still worth keeping zinc in mind.