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Mark was strong, fit and bubbly. Two weeks ago he caught the flu. He died last Monday.

This year, 105 Australians have died from the flu. 

26 Victorians.

25 Queenslanders.

37 New South Welshman.

17 South Australians.

Annique’s 61-year-old uncle Mark was one of these numbers.

He died one week ago.

Listen to Annique’s story on The Quicky. Post continues after podcast.

“I might be coming down with something,” Mark had told Annique when she’d invited him around on Mother’s Day. “I feel a bit off.”

Three days later, the family checked in on him. “Do you need anything?” they asked.

“No no, I am fine, I don’t want you to catch it, but I am definitely out of the woods, I feel so much better, I am going to cook up a nice meal tonight,” he replied.

Two days later, he collapsed in the bathroom.

The next morning he was in the ICU on life support.

“His kidneys are failing,” the family was told by Mark’s shocked doctor who had only done a full panel of normal bloods two weeks earlier.

The next day, Sunday, he started to turn blue.

“We couldn’t fathom what we were looking at, just a week ago he was uncle Mark, he was bubbly, he was bright,” Annique told The Quicky.

On the Monday, the family was told to say goodbye, and made the excruciating decision to remove his life support tubes.

Mark took one breath, and died.

The cruel irony was he had booked in for his flu shot that very day.

In two weeks, Mark came down with and died from influenza A.

It’s highly contagious and can be spread to anyone in a six foot radius in one cough or sneeze.

Health authorities around the country are begging Australians to get the flu shot.

Diagnoses are currently twice the five year average and that’s just counting those who are going to their GP.

Why is it so high?

Because the flu is ever evolving and hard to predict year on year.

“The influenza vaccine is designed to cover all the strains of the virus that cause illness but they come in many different types,” Professor Kanta Subbarao from the World Health Organisation’s collaborative centre for influenza research told The Quicky.

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“There’s types A and B that cause human seasonal influenza and within each of these there are two strains that are co-circulating.

“Each of them cause a clinical illness that is indistinguishable from the other and we cannot predict ahead of time which of the four strains will circulate or dominate in any given season.

Each year, the vaccine contains strains that represent all of those possibilities.

We get a new flu shot every year because of the ever evolving nature of influenza. It’s constantly changing to avoid and bypass the immunity we’ve created against it.

“Influenza vaccines are the only vaccines that have to be updated every year, unlike measles or rubella where you have a single strain,” explained Professor Subbarao.

“We make a recommendation every year to modify the composition of the vaccine to keep pace with what’s happening in nature,” she added.

There’s a common misconception that getting the flu shot will make you sick.

flu vaccination australia
105 Australians have died this flu season. Everyone needs to get vaccinated to improve our herd immunity. Image: Getty.

As Professor Subbarao reiterates, that's not true.

"The most common side effect is a sore arm, but it cannot give you respiratory illness and it cannot give you influenza," she said.

If you've already had the flu, you are still advised to get the flu shot if you haven't already.

"We might start the flu season with one strain [of influenza] and finish winter with another.

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"One of the problems is immunity to one strain of the virus doesn't provide cross protection against the other strains," said Professor Subbarao.

What is the flu?

Influenza infects the cells lining your respiratory tract from your nose down to your lungs.

"When it infects these cells, it replicates and makes hundreds of millions of copies of itself and in the process damages the cells, these cells have hairlike outsides that clear mucus, bacteria and anything we inhale.

"So when the cells are infected and die, a lot of the cells that protect our airways are shed because they are killed by the virus," explained Professor Subbarao.

It can take several days or weeks for these cells to regenerate and recover and during that time a person can develop bronchitis, a secondary bacterial infection and in the worst case scenario as we've seen with 105 Australians so far, die.

Who's at risk?

The very young and the very old are the most vulnerable in our society.

"They don't have as efficient immune systems and are more susceptible to the effects of influenza and the dangers of it," GP Penny Adams told The Quicky. 

If you've got the flu, you're contagious for 7-10 days.

"When you cough, those droplets that come out of your mouth contain the influenza virus, but bare in mind if in the first 48 hours of getting symptoms (and they feel much more severe to getting an ordinary cold) if you get those early, there's a medication you can take called Tamiflu which can stop the virus from reproducing," said Dr Adams.

If you are turning up to the GP with suspected flu, do make sure you alert the staff so they can seat you in a different area.

The most important thing to remember is for those of us that are strong, fit and healthy, you are not getting the flu shot for you.

You are getting it to protect the community through herd immunity.

But that's not to say you won't get it yourself.

"The influenza virus is not a discriminating virus it infects everybody. We've had people in their 20s and 30s dying, it's a really nasty virus. Everyone should be getting it," insists Dr Adams.

You only have to look at Annique's uncle Mark to prove that right.

"I can't stress enough how deadly this is, I shudder to think what it could do to people who are young or vulnerable," she said.

Tags: flu , health , mebank2019 , news-stories , the-quicky
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