Winter is coming. And with it the flu. I am in Australia where they have just had one of their worst seasons of the flu with 722 deaths, twice the normal number. Children under the age of five were particularly hard hit.
Experts I spoke with believe that the actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher because many deaths, especially among the elderly, are due to other causes.
In addition to being far more dangerous, the influenza season in Australia begins earlier than normal – in April, which is fall – and finally reached a few months ago, in July.
British doctors worried about influenza viruses causing death and destruction in Australia will soon make their way to the UK.
And what can you do?
The best way to protect yourself or your children from the flu is through flu, especially if you are at high risk.
Although the influenza season in the UK usually does not start until November, there is a risk if the Australian model follows that it will start earlier ( stock image)
Although the season Influenza in the UK usually does not start until November, there is a risk that if it follows the Australian model, it will start earlier.  So it would be a good idea to vaccinate sooner rather than later.
But there is a problem.
The World Health Organization usually tells manufacturers of the flu vaccine which strains of flu should protect us from the beginning of the year. This time, they delayed their pronouncement to make sure the vaccines used contained the strains causing Aussie flu.
But the effect of having to wait for health leaders to give their thumbs is that some doctors may not receive vaccines until the end of November.
If there are currently no vaccines in your personal surgery, do not panic. Instead, spend next month making a real effort to increase your intake of probiotic-rich foods, also known as "healthy bacteria," and something you may not have heard of, prebiotics.
There is good evidence that this will improve the effectiveness of the vaccine when available.
HOW CAN THESE GOOD BACTERIA HELP
Probiotics are living bacteria that are found in fermented foods like live yogurt, yogurt and kimchi. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are compounds present in fiber-rich foods.
They are not digested, but instead feed the "good" germs down your gut, helping them to thrive. They are found in foods such as garlic, onions and oats.
When viruses invade your body, your immune system responds by producing antibodies. They adhere to and help to destroy the virus. Some of the "good" bacteria in your gut – known as the microbiome – bind directly to immune cells, making them more active.
When a vaccine, similar to the influenza vaccine, is introduced into the body, a similar process takes place. The jab contains inactivated flu viruses. They can't get us sick, but they "rearrange" the immune system to create antibodies that recognize and kill these strains of the virus.
Good bacteria in the gut play a role in making these immune cells more effective in their work. So having a healthy, diverse microbiome accelerates the power of the vaccine.
A recent study involving more than 600 people concludes that consumption of pre- or probiotics enhances the response of antibodies against influenza viruses by about 20%.
Good gut bacteria play a role in making these immune cells more effective in their work. So having a healthy, diverse microbiome speeds up the power of the vaccine (stock image)
HOW MUCH ASIAN INFLUENCE KILLS MUCH
Every winter flu kills 800 people in the UK. There is rarely a pandemic that sweeps the world, killing millions. Pandemics occur when a new strain of the flu virus emerges – one that we have little natural resistance to. It often happens when a virus finds a way to jump from another animal, such as a bird or pig, to us.
The largest pandemic recently was the so-called Spanish influenza pandemic. It began in 1918, distributed by soldiers returning home from World War I and is estimated to have killed between 40 million and 100 million.
I was born in Calcutta, India, in March 1957, just as a new, deadly strain of the influenza virus, known as the Asian flu, came from China.
Probably started with a bird, spread in a pig and then infected a human. He reached Calcutta in July 1957 and almost killed me. My mother tells me that I was extremely ill and it was a touch and a walk for a while. I came back, but others were less fortunate – nearly two million died.
A few years ago they did a blood test for a television program that I did for the flu. The test showed that I still had traces of antibodies against Asian flu.
A few years ago, they did a blood test for me on a television program I was doing for the flu. The test showed that I still had traces of antibodies against Asian flu
A few years later, in 1968, there was another pandemic called Hong Kong flu. At the time, I was living in Hong Kong (my father worked in banking, which is why my family lived abroad), an 11-year-old child, and again my blood showed that I was infected. This epidemic was relatively benign and killed "only" a million people.
The last major epidemic of the 20th century was the Russian flu that struck Britain in 1977. I was a student at Oxford University and again my blood showed that I had it and successfully beat it.
However, the Russian flu was not really new. In fact, it was the reappearance of Spanish flu or H1N1 that people thought was gone. Fortunately, he seems to have mutated into a more benign form, and though quickly spread, this time he didn't kill on something of the same scale.
In 2009, there was another serious flu pandemic, popularly known as swine flu, I escaped this one, but it affected about 20 percent of the world's population and killed more than 200,000 people.
Nobody knows when the next Big One will hit or how bad it will be, but a recent WHO report said it was not a question of whether it would happen, but when.
So, are you ready for the next one?
The good news is that we have learned a lot from previous pandemics and are better prepared to deal with the next one.
We have antiviral drugs and antibiotics that will help us deal with secondary bacterial infections that have killed so many people in previous outbreaks.
We are also much faster than before identifying new viruses and developing vaccines to combat them.
A promising new technology that can be of great benefit is the creation of a new type of vaccine known as DNA vaccine. They only contain a gene from a virus, which subsequently helps the immune system to recognize and combat this virus in the future.
Theoretically, they are faster and cheaper to produce in larger quantities and easier to transport and store – and as I explained, in the flu vaccine time is of the essence. The first experiments with DNA vaccines on humans are taking place in the United States.
Finding a way to dramatically shorten the time it takes to create and spread an effective vaccine against a new pandemic can save millions of lives when the next one hits.
- You can find recipes for increasing the microbiome in my book The Smart Gut Diet (Short Books, £ 8.99).