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Asthma expert warns “uniquely unpredictable” winter ahead

May 3 2022

Today is World Asthma Day and the National Asthma Council Australia is reminding the 2.7 million Australians with asthma that right now is the best time to get their annual flu vaccination.

National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson, Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, said this winter is going to be uniquely unpredictable for respiratory virus infections and disease, which has significant implications for people with asthma.

“The National Asthma Council Australia is recommending that people with asthma get a fourth COVID immunisation as soon as they are eligible, to top up immunity and provide the best possible protection before the peak winter season from June to September.

“The Omicron sub-variant (BA.2) is now Australia’s dominant COVID strain with new versions continuing to emerge right in time for the winter flu season, which is particularly concerning for people with asthma.

“In addition, most restrictions on travel have been lifted so other respiratory viruses will begin to circulate and after two years of isolation, population immunity to all respiratory viruses has diminished.

“This means that the impact of cold and flu viruses could be much higher than usual, so protection from viral infections is vital, especially if you, or someone in your family has asthma,” he said.                                

With at least 80% of asthma flare ups caused by viral infection, Associate Professor Bartlett said the flu vaccine will be key to helping reduce the risk of respiratory viruses this winter.

“The risk of catching a respiratory virus increases during winter as people spend more time together indoors and if you have asthma, any of these viruses can cause a cold which has the potential to develop into an asthma flare up.

“The more severe the flare up, the great the chance that your airways are irreversibly damaged,” he said.

Associate Professor Bartlett said as soon as cold symptoms start it is best to take a proactive approach including an asthma check-up at the doctor to review your asthma action plan.

“Take medicines as prescribed, especially your preventer, as this will help your airways to be less inflamed and sensitive, which helps to resist the airway-damaging effects of the viral infection and can prevent serious asthma flares.

“Seniors who have asthma are already at greater risk of more severe respiratory viral disease, so they are particularly vulnerable.

“Getting both the flu vaccine and ensuring you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection induced severe disease this winter,” said Associate Professor Bartlett.

The National Asthma Council Australia is recommending everyone, but especially those with asthma, over the age of five years should have at least two vaccine doses and everyone over the age of 16 years should have a third dose. Those older than 65 years (more than 50 years if you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander), a resident of aged care or disability facility, or who are immunosuppressed, should also receive a fourth COVID vaccine dose, three months after their third vaccine dose.