The flu isn’t the only health woe Australians have to worry about this winter, with chilly household temperatures putting many people at greater risk of developing heart problems.
Professor Adrian Barnett, of the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, says because Australia’s “flimsy” house designs are geared towards summer they are “barely protecting” residents from the cold making them vulnerable to infections and viruses.
“They are tents with letterboxes out the front… we are basically just keeping ourselves dry,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Mr Barnett said low temperatures can increase blood pressure which in turn, can trigger heart attacks and strokes for people with pre-existing conditions.
“It doesn’t really matter what the outdoor temperature is, it is the indoor temperature that is going to drive your risk of a heart attack,” he said.
“It happens every winter in Australia and really, nothing is being done about it.”
Previous studies have found the risk of having a heart attack to be 17 times higher in the week after a person has had a respiratory infection, with one Australian suffering a heart attack every 10 seconds.
Possible reasons for why respiratory infection may trigger a heart attack include an increased tendency towards blood clotting, inflammation and toxins damaging blood vessels, and changes in blood flow.
Mr Barnett said while thermal clothes can help, they can’t warm cold air which travels straight into the lungs and cardiovascular system.
“It is really a joke when people are dying at 10 degrees,” he said.
Professor of infectious diseases at the University of Sydney, Robert Booy, said having a flu vaccine is one way to help reduce the risk of a heart attack.
“Whether the prediction is that we will have a warm or a cold or a wet or a dry winter it doesn’t matter, we are going to have influenza,” he said.
“The flu has been with us for the last few months at reasonably low levels but we are expecting it to rise as it does every winter.
“It is a vaccine that certainly worth having.”