Battling the cold war

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Flu season looming On a dreary day like today, there is nothing worse than travelling in cramped public transport with someone sneezing, wheezing and coughing all over you. As the chilliness approaches, the cold and flu bug is literally ‘breathing down our backs’.

With swine flu making headlines last year, what lessons did we learn? And at a time of significant discussion about vaccinations, how will we combat the inevitable germs we will be exposed to this winter?

Our own mini poll conducted almost two weeks ago provides a snapshot of 100 Australians’ experience with the winter woes last year – 80% were hit with a cold, almost half took time off work and one-in-five saw a GP as a result.

Of those that visited their GP, the most common diagnosis was a viral infection – very few were diagnosed with influenza.

The poll offers clues to our likely behaviour this year. We asked all participants if they expected to catch a cold this winter and only 21% feel that they won’t get struck down. So what will the rest of us do to fight the dreaded lurgy?

We discovered almost one-third is planning to have a flu vaccination, which is similar to the number of survey respondents who had the jab a year ago.

When asked about cold treatment strategies, short of packing up and moving to a tropical island, heading to a pharmacy for cold and flu medication was the number one remedy by far, followed by resting and taking it easy. Only a small number feel they will need to trouble their GP.

With Australians now urged more than ever to take greater responsibility for managing their own health, these results are encouraging to see. We must be listening. Well at least Cube’s friends and colleagues are! Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll.

So what will you do to contest the cold and flu crusade this year?

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Doctor or dotcom – is a digital diagnosis more important than the doc?

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Have you ever found yourself reaching for your keyboard to research an ailment you are convinced you are a perfect candidate for? “Feeling fatigued? Check! Some weight gain? Yes! General muscle pain? That confirms it, I have contracted an incurable disease,” you hear yourself say.

If this is vaguely familiar, consider yourself an active contributor to a nation of ‘cyberchondriacs.’

Most of us will admit to Googling ‘[name of an exotic/obscure illness] + symptoms’ following a late night viewing of Medical Mysteries – but are Aussies taking their health too lightly by substituting doctor with .com?

New research from research company TNS found that 1 in 4 Australians will search the internet for medical advice to self-diagnose and even treat themselves. Over a quarter of this group feel that they are able to diagnose and treat an ailment without the need of a healthcare professional.

Considering ‘pregnancy’ and ‘cancer’ are the top two Googled health conditions (generating around 7.7 million search queries each month) and the fact that anyone can publish anything online (Wikipedia, anyone?) – these findings are somewhat concerning. 

A recent HCF survey also reveals that Gen Y and women are the most common web medicos. Could this be because more than half of those aged 18-34 said they were too embarrassed to talk to a GP?

Searching for health information online

Searching for health information online

Both TNS and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) agree that while the internet has its uses, those searching for health information must be careful. People may be at risk of diagnosing non-existent symptoms and possibly using treatments which may not be appropriate.

So, next time a mystery illness on hospital drama House prompts you to e-diagnose, remember to take the information with a grain of salt and speak to your pharmacist or GP                                                                                                     if you have concerns.

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