We went two whole years with colds and flus practically wiped out in Australia thanks to lockdowns and other health measures, but now that everyone’s making out with each other again influenza rates are skyrocketing.

According to NSW Health, around 2,000 cases of the flu were recorded in the first week of May alone. This is nearly double last week’s numbers. I smell another sicky coming my way.

As we head into winter, health experts have warned a “significant flu epidemic” is coming. However, it’s hard not to feel like we’re already in one, especially with the health system already feeling the strain. Don’t forget, we still have COVID running around too.

According to NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, over 60 people in the state have been hospitalised with the flu this year.

“Of 25,556 tests conducted for influenza in the week ending 7 May 2022, 9.1 per cent were positive, compared with 5.3 per cent in the previous week,” she said during a press conference.

“As with COVID-19, boarding schools are a high-risk setting for flu transmission.

“We’re strongly encouraging all students and staff in boarding schools to get their flu vaccine.

“Boarders with flu should be isolated from others until their symptoms resolve.”

Obviously, even if you aren’t a student at a boarding school you should go and get your flu shot as soon as you can. Cases are spiking friends! They don’t call it a flu epidemic for nothing.

Deputy director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza Professor Ian Barr told the Sydney Morning Herald cases would continue to rise in the coming weeks and a big peak is expected in winter.

“The way things are heading we will have a significant flu epidemic outbreak but whether that will peak in August, or slightly later in September, is unclear,” Barr said.

He said that the dramatic increase in NSW can pretty much be chalked up to vaccine fatigue.

“While people might be sick of vaccination — and there is definitely less of an appetite for vaccines after COVID-19 — there needs to be an awareness flu is back and vaccination is the best tool to protect against illness,” Barr said.

Flu vaccine uptake has dropped year on year throughout the pandemic.

About 600,000 NSW residents received their annual flu shot between March 1 and April 25 this year, compared to 850,000 in the same period in 2021 and 1.5 million in 2020.

The rise can also be attributed to the fact that we think of COVID-19 as our most present and aggressive threat so we’ve forgotten about everything else that can kill us. And the flu can kill us.

There were more than 800 flu deaths reported nationally in 2019 and 1181 in 2017.

But in 2021 there were zero deaths and only six (6) reported cases in the whole country. No, seriously. Masks work! Who knew.

Flu cases seem to be higher than usual in young children this year which experts said was likely because they’d never lived through a flu season and therefore had no immunity whatsoever. And the same applies to adults who haven’t had the illness or a flu shot in a few years — your immunity will be shite.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) actually warned the 2022 flu season would be pretty unpredictable this year for that very reason and case numbers could explode earlier than usual.

So! To slow this flu epidemic you need to get the flu shot.

“Despite vaccination fatigue the RCPA recommends anyone aged six months and over to get the influenza vaccine in order to prevent widespread illness and even deaths from influenza,” RCPA Fellow Dr Jenny Robson said in a statement.

“We now have lower levels of protection in the community, meaning the virus can spread more quickly.

“We therefore need to increase vaccine coverage in the community, not only to protect ourselves but to protect our vulnerable, just like we have with COVID-19.”

Remember: if you’re young and healthy getting a flu shot is more about protecting those more at risk of serious illness or death than you. High vaccine uptake also reduces the pressure on the already strained healthcare system.

Flu shots through the National Immunisation Program became available in April 2021 and are free for children aged six months to five years, First Nations people, any adults aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with existing health conditions. Check your eligibility for a free jab here. Do it!

Otherwise, they’re pretty cheap and you can get one at your GP or most pharmacies.

And if you start to feel unwell please don’t go into your workplace or hit up Woolies or get on a train if you don’t have to. Mask up when you leave the house or, if you can, just stay home and rest up.