Flu cases are surging around Australia.
Two years of COVID restrictions have left the population with little natural immunity for influenza and we head into the winter months with both viruses circulating in the community.
Authorities are urging people to get vaccinated against the flu and dip back into their COVID prevention tool kit of masks, vaccination and social distancing.
And then there’s testing. You can get tested to see if you have the flu after contacting a doctor, but rapid antigen tests are another story.
Can you get rapid antigen tests for the flu?
Yes. The technology is available, but the demand for flu RATs isn’t there yet, University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short says.
“There hasn’t been the demand, I mean, rapid antigen testing has been around as a technology for other pathogens,” Dr. Short says.
“For example, HIV has rapid antigen tests and that’s been used widely.”
That could change following their common use amid the COVID pandemic.
She says the idea of widespread use of rapid antigen testing is relatively new.
At the moment rapid antigen tests for the flu are expensive and not as widely available as COVID tests.
“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 useful,” Dr. Short says.
“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 plenty of benefits, Dr. Short says.
Confirmation of an infection can determine how quickly you’re able to access treatments.
“We have seen the power of diagnostics and how important diagnostics is in outbreak management,” she says.
“This comes down to specific risks. Imagine if someone is elderly, or they have underlying conditions, they test early on in their illness, and they test positive for the flu and not COVID.
“They would then be eligible for antivirals, specifically Tamiflu, which reduces disease severity.”
It’s something many have witnessed during COVID.
“If they test positive for COVID they would be eligible for antivirals or monoclonal antibodies to reduce disease severity,” she says.
“Once you know — and provided you know early enough in the course of the infection — then you can have some treatment.
“These antivirals work very early in the course [of the disease],
Can I get my flu vaccine with my COVID booster?
Health authorities around the country have urged people to get vaccinated against the flu.
Queensland Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken is the latest to remind us that you can get vaccinated against the flu and COVID 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?
Along with 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’re feeling crook is to stay away from other people while we are actively sick,” says University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay.
“That’s kind of what our body is telling us when we’ve got those [flu like] symptoms, it’s saying ‘you know what, rest up now.'”
Wearing a mask, social distancing, getting vaccinated and keeping away from workplaces while unwell will stop you spreading it on to others.
“It’s really important you don’t go spreading it to others, by transmitting it around the network because we lose people from work and sometimes people don’t have sick leave and that’s a big deal,” Dr. Mackay says.