Influenza cases are skyrocketing in Australia.
Two years of COVID restrictions have left the population with little natural immunity to flu and we are entering the winter months with both viruses circulating in the community.
Authorities are urging people to get vaccinated against the flu and dive back into their COVID prevention toolkit with masks, vaccination and social distancing.
And then there’s the testing. You can get tested to see if you have the flu after seeing a doctor, but rapid antigen tests are a different story.
Can You Get Rapid Antigen Tests for the Flu?
Yes. The technology is available, but the demand for flu RATs is not yet there, says University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short.
“There was no demand for, I mean, rapid antigen testing already exists as a technology for other pathogens,” says Dr. short.
“For example, HIV has rapid antigen testing and that’s widely used.”
That could change after its widespread use during the COVID pandemic.
She says the idea of widespread use of rapid antigen testing is relatively new.
At present, rapid influenza antigen testing is expensive and not as widely available as COVID testing.
“So I think that makes it difficult, but if we were in a situation where they could be rolled out to the general public, I think it would be helpful,” says Dr. short.
“The easier and cheaper these tests can become, the more widely they can be used.”
Is it worth getting tested for the flu?
Testing has many benefits, Dr. Short says.
Confirming an infection can determine how quickly you can access treatments.
“We’ve seen the power of diagnostics and the importance of diagnostics in controlling outbreaks,” she says.
“This comes down to specific risks. Imagine someone is older or has underlying conditions, they test early in their illness and they test positive for the flu and not COVID.
“They would then be eligible for antiviral drugs, especially Tamiflu, which reduces the severity of the disease.”
It’s something many have seen during COVID.
“If they test positive for COVID, they qualify for antivirals or monoclonal antibodies to reduce the severity of the disease,” she says.
“Once you know it — and provided you know it early enough in the course of the infection — you can get treatment.
“These antivirals work very early in the course [of the disease]†
Can I get my flu vaccine with my COVID booster?
Health authorities across the country have urged people to get vaccinated against the flu.
Queensland’s acting Chief Health Officer, Peter Aitken, is the last to remind us that you can get flu and COVID vaccinated on the same day.
“Most people have two shoulders and you can get a flu vaccine and a COVID vaccine at the same time,” Dr Aitken said yesterday.
What precautions can I take against the flu?
In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu, the precautions are very similar to the precautions we use against COVID.
“I think the safest way to go if you feel like a scammer is to stay away from other people while we’re actively sick,” said University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay.
“That’s kind of what our bodies tell us when we have them” [flu like] symptoms, it says ‘you know what, rest now.'”
wears a mask† social distancing, getting vaccinated and stay away from workplaces when you are not feeling well will prevent you from spreading it to others.
“It’s really important that you don’t spread it to others, by sending it over the network, because we lose people from work and sometimes people don’t have sick leave and that’s a big problem,” says Dr Mackay.