With the colder months coming up, there’s one thing that’s in everyone’s mind: “Will I catch the flu this season?” Although the flu rates have been pretty low the last two years owing to lockdowns and social distancing, with Australia more or less back to its normal, we can expect the flu rates to hike again this year. In Australia, the flu season typically falls in the months of June-September, although the real time period may be somewhere between April to October.

The flu is different from a common cold and the symptoms can often be debilitating enough to warrant taking several days off work. Many people hesitate to miss work when they first start showing symptoms, but studies show that people with influenza are actually most infectious in the first 3-5 days of their illness! This is why it is always recommended to get a medical certificate for leave and stay home as soon as you start showing flu-like symptoms (especially with COVID-19 still running rampant across the community!)

What is the flu?
A shortened version of the word, “influenza”, the flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Although it is often confused with the common cold, the two illnesses are actually quite different. Where flu is only caused by the virus called influenza, the common cold can be caused by upto 200 different types of viruses, the most common of which is rhinovirus. Both the common cold and the flu are transmitted through airborne particles that may be expelled by an infected person when coughing or sneezing and are then breathed in by another person.

Symptoms of the flu
Much like the common cold, the most common symptoms of the flu include:

- Coughing
- Sore throat
- Feeling weak and fatigued

These symptoms may range from mild to moderate in the case of a common cold, but may be quite severe in the case of flu. Other symptoms of flu which are rarely seen in the common cold include:

- Sudden onset of high-grade fever, with temperatures ranging between 38°C to 40°C
- Moderate to severe headaches
- Moderate to severe aches and pains in the body
- Children may also experience bouts of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Although having a runny nose and sneezing is common in a cold, it is quite rare in flu.

The Difference Between Flu and COVID-19
Another reason why it is always recommended to get a medical certificate for leave and stay home as soon as you start noticing flu-like symptoms is because the symptoms are very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. Until you get tested and are sure you don’t have COVID, it’s best to stay away from other people.
Some similarities in symptoms between flu and COVID include:

- Fever
- Cough
- Fatigue
- Muscle aches and headaches
- Sore throat.

Because of these similarities, it can be difficult to know whether you have the flu or covid based just on your symptoms, which is why a COVID-19 test is always recommended.

The main difference between flu and COVID-19 is the virus that causes each illness. While the flu is caused by Influenza A and B viruses, COVID-19 is caused by the new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms of flu may start appearing as soon as 1 to 4 days after exposure to the virus whereas COVID-19 symptoms can appear anywhere between 2 to 14 days after exposure. COVID is also much more contagious than the flu and people report a loss of the senses of taste or smell, something that doesn’t occur with flu. Covid also has a much higher mortality rate and a higher rate of causing severe lung infections.

Protecting Yourself From the Flu
Your best defence against the influenza virus this flu season is to get vaccinated against it. It is important to get the flu shot every year as the virus mutates with each flu season and gets stronger, and your previous immunisation may no longer work against it. Every year, scientists and microbiologists study the new strain of the virus and tweak the vaccine to better counter it.

If you have already caught the flu, antibiotics will not help. This is because antibiotics only work agaisnt bacteria, whereas the flu is caused by a virus. You can easily treat yourself at home by drinking plenty of fluids and getting plenty of rest and sleep, which usually means staying home from work or school.

In case your employer requires a medical certificate from a registered doctor to grant you access to your sick leave, it is always a better idea to get a medical certificate online instead of potentially exposing others at the clinic to the virus. Not only is this quick and easy (and safer), it also allows you more time to rest and get better by eliminating the need to travel and spend time in the waiting room to see your GP.

Author's Bio: 

I have zeal to pen down my thoughts when it comes to writing. When not working, either I am glued to my playlist, Netflix, books or you can find me splurging on myself.