Vaccinate against influenza
People are urged to have the influenza vaccine as soon as it becomes available at a pharmacy or healthcare centre. The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) recently announced there was a delay in the availability of the influenza vaccine for 2015. The NHLS stated there was a change in influenza viruses circulating during the 2014 season. As a result, the influenza strains included in the 2015/16 vaccines had to be changed. This resulted in delays in manufacturing and quality control of the 2015 southern hemisphere vaccine globally. Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. Influenza can cause mild to severe illness. It can also make chronic health problems worse or lead to pneumonia for example which in turn could lead to death. Doctor Robyn Holgate, from ER24, urged people to get vaccinated. “It is never too late to vaccinate, even though it may take up to two weeks to develop sufficient protection for the winter months. I am glad the correct strains were included in the vaccination for the coming season, even if it meant the vaccine arriving a little late,” she said. There are people who say they have in the past been vaccinated but still had influenza and therefore choose not to get vaccinated again. Dr Holgate said the reason why people develop influenza even though they had the vaccine is because they may be infected with one of the strains not included in the current vaccine. She added the influenza vaccine is usually a preparation against the three most probable strains of the virus for the current flu season. These are an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013(H3N2)-like virus and A B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus. Pregnant women, irrespective of the stage of pregnancy, should get vaccinated. Women who are still within their two weeks after delivery should also have the vaccination. Dr Holgate said a recent trial conducted in South Africa proved the safety of the influenza vaccine for pregnant women. She said pregnant women must have the vaccination as they are high risk for influenza. Other high-risk groups that must have the vaccine include:
- Adults and children who are receiving regular medical care for conditions like chronic pulmonary and cardiac disease, chronic renal diseases, diabetes and similar metabolic disorders. People who are immunosuppressed (including HIV infected people) and those who are morbidly obese (BMI≥40 kg/m2) should also have the vaccine.
- Adults and children who come into contact with those who are high-risk. People over the age of 65.
- Children between the ages of six months and five years.
Dr Holgate said healthcare workers must also have the vaccination. “Healthcare workers, by the very nature of their work, may be more exposed to viruses than other members of the public. It is vital they ensure their own health by staying healthy, washing their hands and using appropriate barrier protection. The influenza vaccine is one way of ensuring they stay at work during the winter months,” she said. It is important to note that influenza is different from a cold. Dr Holgate said the key difference between colds and influenza is the very high temperatures one gets with the associated symptoms of Influenza. People usually develop influenza suddenly. Symptoms include:
- Runny or blocked nose
- Body aches
Gastric flu: Speaking about gastric flu, Dr Holgate said, “Viruses are very common. People may talk about having gastric flu. This may be a virus doing its seasonal rounds which causes gastro type signs and symptoms for example abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. However, it is not one of the influenza viruses,” she said. ER24’s Emergency Contact Centre can be reached 24 hours a day on 084 124 for any medical emergency.