Flu symptoms can develop rapidly with the winter approaching. Vaccination or flu shots are to be taken before flu symptoms develop.
“People need to be immunised before winter as it can take up to two weeks to develop immunity after immunisation,” says New Zealand’s National Influenza Strategy Group (NISG) spokesperson and virologist, Dr Lance Jennings. Each year, 10 percent to 20 percent of New Zealanders get influenza. This is despite the fact that influenza vaccine distribution reached 1 million in 2010 in the country with 4 million population.
Over 11,000 people have died of flu in between 6 December and 12 December 2010 in England and Wales, which is more than the expected levels for that time of year, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). There has been 250 percent increase in flu-related hospitalizations. Similarly, in the United States, the CDC reported 724 cases of hospitalizations and 16 deaths between 3 October and 18 December 2010.
What are the flu symptoms?
You can often confuse ordinary cold with flu or influenza, which show similar symptoms. Here’s a comparison of the symptoms of flu with those of cold. (Source: US National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging).
|Symptoms||If it’s a cold||If it’s the flu|
|General aches, pains||slight||usual; often severe|
|Tiredness, weakness||sometimes||usual; can last 2 to 3 weeks|
|Extreme exhaustion||never||usual; when first become sick|
|Chest discomfort, cough||mild to moderate hacking cough||common; can become severe|
How dangerous is the flu?
“Although influenza may be mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even death for others,” says Dr Jennings.
How effective are flu shots?
Most health agencies encourage people to get a flu jab every year to protect from influenza. “A flu shot contains the flu vaccine, which could keep you from getting the flu,” says US National Institute on Aging. Most health insurance plans in the US pay for the flu vaccination. During winter months, flu vaccination is easily available at your local doctor or from the government health facility.
Certain countries like New Zealand offer free influenza immunisation for people at high risk — people aged 65 and over. Also, New Zealanders under 65 years of age with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers receive free flu jab. Pregnant women are also eligible for free influenza immunisation as studies have shown that they are particularly susceptible to more severe outcomes from influenza.
Will I catch flu from someone else?
Yes, the flu is highly contagious. It spreads through air and is often passed on from person to person. In fact, a sick person can pass on the infection even before falling sick, and the sick person remains contagious for many datys. You can catch flu if the sick person sneezes near you. You can also catch flu if you touch any utensil used by a sick person, and then take your hand near your nose or mouth.
The best way to prevent catching the flu is to stay away from sick people.
Who should take the flu vaccination?
Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone. However, older people are more susceptible to influenza. People aged 50 and older should get a flu shot every year, recommend Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the US Federal Government. Also, those who look after older people should also take a flu jab every year.
Why should I take flu shots every year?
There are two reasons. First, the strains covered by the seasonal influenza vaccine change from year to year. For example, this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine in New Zealand provides protection against three strains of flu, including the Pandemic H1N1 (swine flu), seasonal H3N2 and B viruses, which are all expected to circulate in New Zealand this season.
Second, the effect of vaccination decreases over time. “People who were immunised last year, however, should still be immunised again this year because the immunity offered by influenza vaccines lessens over time – further immunisation is likely to offer better protection,” says Dr Jennings.
“Although influenza may be mild-to-moderate for most people, it can lead to serious complications and even death for others.”
What are the side effects of flu shots?
The side effects depend on the strength of the immune system. Most people don’t show any side effects after the flu shot.
“When you get the flu shot, your arm might be sore, red, or a bit swollen,” says the US National Institute on Aging. “These side effects may start shortly after getting the shot and can last up to 2 days.” You can go to work and continue your daily routine as usual. You may experience a headache or mild fever. “The flu shot cannot cause you to get the flu,” says the institute.
However, if you are allergic to eggs, you should not get the flu shot. “Because eggs are used to make the flu vaccine, people who are allergic to eggs could have a serious reaction to the shot.”
Will the flu shots protect me from bird flu?
Flu virus changes from time to time. Bird flu or avian flu is a type of flu that can lead to serious illness. However, bird flu is rarely found in humans. It rarely transmitted from person to person. It is unlikely to become widespread in people. Your annual flu shots will not protect you from bird flu. Currently, there is no vaccine for bird flu. Scientists are working on developing vaccination for bird flu.
What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a type of influenza that affects pigs; it can also cause influenza in people. It is also known as pig influenza, swine flu, hog flu. The known strains include H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, H3N2, and H2N3. Swine flu is not common among humans.
People regularly exposed to pigs are likely to be infected by swine flu. However, the consumption of infected pig poses no risk of infection when properly cooked. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a swine flu vaccine for use in the United States. According to National Institutes of Health, a dose of the vaccine creates antibodies to protect against the virus within about 10 days.
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(Dr Rashmi Samtani is a consulting physician based in Mumbai, India. Information in this article should not be used as medical advice. Please consult your doctor for professional advice.)