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Flu season warning

After record low cases of influenza in 2020, there are fears Australia could be at risk of a “rebound flu season” – but a healthy diet can go a long way to helping.

Increased social distancing measures and hygiene practices as a result of the pandemic led to a significant decrease in the number of influenza cases in Australia last year.

However, historically, record low years tend to be followed by big flu years.

Professor Ian Barr, deputy director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Doherty Institute, says that while the severity flu seasons are tough to predict with certainty, similar rebounds have been seen before.

“Certainly, that played out in 2018–19. So, 2018 was a record low for us in the past 10 years, and in 2019 was a very big year,” Mr Barr told News GP last season.

In 2018, Australia had 58,870 laboratory-confirmed cases, well down on the 2010-2019 average of 99,618. That was followed by a whopping 313,360 in 2019.

“So sometimes that [increase] does happen,” Mr Barr continues. “I don’t know whether you can lock it in, though.

“What we don’t really know is how much impact there really is with having low seasons in terms of exposing people in one year or not exposing them, and then having them more susceptible the following year.

 “But certainly you would expect, logically, that if we have fewer people infected [in one] year that we’ll have less herd immunity going forward, unless the vaccine can pick up some of that slack.”

In addition to getting your flu vaccination (if you haven’t already), dietitian and Mayver’s ambassador Susie Burrell says eating a healthy and balanced diet is essential for fighting influenza.

She adds that doing so helps to maintain every single one of our body’s organs and cells, including our immune system.

“In addition to eating a balanced diet that includes whole foods, adding foods that contain vitamins and minerals that are known for supporting the immune system is the first step to take,” Susie says.

“Essential foods to add to your winter diet include spinach, strawberries, peanuts or a 100% natural peanut butter, almonds, garlic, ginger, sweet potato and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

“Omega-3 fatty acids assist in reducing inflammation within the body to support the immune system and are typically found in different types of fish and flaxseeds.

“Cold and flu bugs are caused by viruses, so you essentially need to wait for your immune system to fight them off, which is why plenty of rest, fluids and nutritious wholefoods are essential during winter.”