Last flu season was a nasty one, and reports out of the northern hemisphere predict that this year’s could be even worse. So what can you do to protect your family from being hit hard by influenza?

Get vaccinated

The flu vaccine this year is made up of the four influenza variants that experts think are most likely to affect Australia this autumn and winter. While it doesn’t protect against every possible strain, there is some evidence to suggest that it does help the body to recognise and fight off related strains. Remember that the vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus; people who complain of getting influenza from a vaccine generally picked up the virus before getting their flu shot.

Stay home when ill

Keep sick people at home, in bed, wherever possible. This reduces the chance of them passing on the bug to someone else, but it also reduces the chances of them picking up a different, opportunistic infection.

Go to the doctor early

Influenza can have some nasty side-effects. The most common are bronchitis and pneumonia, often caused by secondary bacterial infections that proliferate while the immune system is busy fending off the flu. Don’t hesitate to take your children to your family GP if you’re at all worried – just ring first to warn them that you have a flu patient coming in. Some doctors prefer to isolate flu patients in a separate waiting room.

Encourage hand-washing at home

Anti-bacterial soap isn’t necessary, but a good infection-control technique is to teach kids to wash their hands regularly and especially before they put their hands anywhere near their mouth or nose.

Teach children to cover their mouths

Hand-washing doesn’t help much if someone coughs or sneezes into another person’s face. And this is exactly what children tend to do until they’re taught otherwise. Keep lots of clean hankies or tissues available, and remember to praise them when they get it right!

Ask sick people to stay away

Some people will take offense, but most will understand that what might be a small illness to them could be a nasty one for someone else. If you’re having people over and one person is sick, ask if they can reschedule for when they’re feeling better. If someone in the family is immune-compromised, consider avoiding (where possible) spending time around people who aren’t vaccinated.

Eat lots of fruit and veg

Keeping your body strong and well-nourished isn’t a preventative, but it can help to decrease your chances of getting really sick from the flu. Consider adding a few new veggies to the dinner line-up. If you struggle with getting your children to eat fruit and vegetables, some people find that offering a healthy grazing platter before dinner can actually encourage hungry children to chow down on otherwise scorned foods.

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