‘Busy battlers’ keep going despite winter ills

office workers blowing noses

Worrying attitudes towards colds and flu have been highlighted by a new survey

Nearly 40% of Australian adults prefer to “push through regardless” and carry on as normal when they come down with a cold or the flu, the 2017 Immunity Index has found.

Commissioned by Cenovis, the data reveals that 37.8% of respondents identify as “busy battlers”.

Another 14.7% said they were “pharmacy fiends,” preferring to “take every cold and flu medication on the shelf” when they contract a winter ill. Only 4.1% “give in” to the illness.

The Index also showed that 43.7% of parents have sent their child to school or child care knowing they were sick: the most common reason (20.9%) was because “they weren’t full blown sick,” but other reasons included limited leave, not being able to afford the time off due to work pressures, and lack of suitable care options.

Worrying misconceptions also abounded: 18% of respondents believed that the flu could be treated with antibiotics, while a cold self-resolves, and 13.3% believe a cold tends to come on more suddenly, while flu symptoms build up over a day or two.

A worrying 6.6% of respondents said that “a cold morphs into the flu as the symptoms become worse”.

James Nevile, senior pharmacist at Amcal, told the AJP that in his experience, pharmacists are very likely to be “busy battlers” themselves.

“Sometimes when we see a busy person, they want something to relieve their symptoms so they can get back to work,” he says. “Fundamentally as pharmacists we have to understand what the patient wants out of their treatment, and in a nice way, encourage them to do the right thing: go home, rest, keep their fluids up and practise good hygiene.

“I think pharmacists are a bit worse than your average worker, purely because they know that if they don’t turn up to work, the pharmacy doesn’t open. So because of the rules around what’s required of them to do – holding the keys, being present at all times when the pharmacy is open – there is this feeling of obligation and that it’s necessary to go to work even if you’re not well.

“If you’re not well enough to be attending work, you should look for locum services; and you can reach out, if your pharmacy is in an area that’s not particularly isolated, to other pharmacies in your town or suburb that you have a relationship with.

“When these things occur, if you can in a collegiate way support one another, it’s a good thing – even if it means one pharmacist from a pharmacy nearby is able to come and open the store and operate it till a locum can arrive.”

Mr Nevile says that as well as encouraging busy battlers to stay home and not spread disease, pharmacists can help break down myths about colds and flu.

“It’s a very common misconception that either the common cold or flu can be treated with antibiotics, and we know there’s a lot more information out there promoting good antibiotic stewardship, which is fantastic,” he says.

“Anything pharmacists can do to support that, and help consumers understand that most of the time these conditions are caused by viruses and an antibiotic won’t help, is useful.”

He also encouraged pharmacists to help debunk the myth that colds can morph into flu, and help stop consumers conflating the two.

This is particularly important in the context of flu vaccination, he says.

“There is still a myth that ‘I got the flu vaccine last year and still got sick, so it didn’t work’,” he says.

“We need to make sure that consumers, especially those in high risk groups, understand the value of flu vaccination and why it’s a great idea for almost everybody.

“They need to understand that the cold they got last year wasn’t the flu, and that when you do get the flu you really know about it.”

It has been suggested that this year’s flu season could hit early, in late July, and that this year’s season may be particularly bad; however at least some of the increase could be simply due to increased notifications.

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