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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Hesitant about getting a flu vaccine this winter? Here is what you need to know

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The flu is one of the most unpleasant common illnesses, with symptoms such as aches, pains, chills, fever, and cough.

Additional symptoms such as runny nose, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, and sore throat can make it difficult to recover.

In South Africa, flu kills approximately 11,500 people annually and causes 20,000 hospitalisations.

“The seasons are changing and with this comes the flu virus,” said Dr Themba Hadebe, Bonitas Medical Fund’s clinical executive. “Now is the time to take precautions against catching flu, including having a flu vaccine, which is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Here are some questions that you may have answered by the WHO:

What is flu?

The flu is an infectious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, hospitalisation, and even death in high-risk groups such small children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying health issues.

Why do you need a flu vaccine?

While the flu vaccine will not remove your risk of having flu, it helps minimise your chances of severe infection.

What are the flu pandemics?

Flu pandemics occur when a new virus arises that differs from seasonal strains, leading to global sickness.

Notable examples include the 1918 Spanish flu, 1957 Asian flu, 1968 Hong Kong flu, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic killed an estimated 50-100 million people.

What is the current flu strain in South Africa?

There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. Seasonal flu outbreaks in humans are mostly caused by A and B viruses.

For 2024, the most often reported influenza viruses are type A (H1N1) and type B.

What are the most common flu symptoms in 2024?

Fever of 38˚C or higher.

Muscle aches, particularly in the back, arms, and legs.

Shivers and sweat.

Will the flu shot give me flu?

A flu vaccine cannot cause influenza. Flu vaccinations are either manufactured with ‘inactivated’ or non-infectious viruses.

Mild adverse effects, such as redness, soreness, and swelling at the injection site, may occur for a few days after the procedure. These are far preferable to a nasty attack of influenza.

Who should get a flu vaccine?

Flu shots are recommended annually for everyone aged six months and up, particularly those at increased risk of complications.

Vaccination in April or May before flu season is recommended as it helps your immune system produce antibodies to combat the virus. Flu shots are widely accessible at pharmacies and often reimbursed by medical insurance.

Anyone in the high-risk groups including:

Healthcare workers.

Individuals over 65 years.

Individuals with chronic diseases – or comorbidities – for example: cardiac disease, diabetes, asthma, kidney diseases (due to poorer baseline immunity.

Pregnant women.

People with a body mass index (BMI) over 40.

People who are immune compromised.

Who should not have the flu vaccine?

Individuals allergic to eggs or egg proteins, as the vaccine is made with chicken eggs.

Individuals under six months old, those who have previously had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine, and those already experiencing flu symptoms should not receive the vaccine.

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