We are in the middle of the month of April and we are getting deep into the Southern Hemisphere Autumn season. During this period outside temperatures start to drop to low 20s or even upper 10s. Our days are becoming shorter, whilst the nights are becoming longer, all environmental signs that herald the imminent beginning of the winter season.
The cold environmental temperatures will most likely be upon us from the beginning of the May month and with the commencement of the Winter season, many of our compatriots will, unfortunately, be victims of the seasonal Flu epidemic. A small percentage of them will succumb from Flu’s serious life-threatening complications, and these are deaths that can be effectively prevented with timeous Flu vaccination, especially for those who are ‘at risk people’.
The winter season is also referred to as the Flu and Cold season because the prevalence of both these mainly respiratory viral illnesses goes up exponentially during the winter season. Flu-related illnesses are responsible for most sick absenteeism from the workplace during this season. It has been reported that the South African economy loses about R2 billion rands per annum because of Flu-related incapacity caused by sickness and that means on average a person in SA loses 4.5 days of productive work from Flu or Common Cold.
In this article, I will attempt to proactively answer most questions related to Flu, Common Colds and Flu Vaccination.
Question 1: What Is Flu, Is It the Same Thing as Influenza?
The name Flu is the shortened version of a longer name Influenza, an airborne viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory system of human beings. It is transmitted from one person to the next through droplet spread caused by coughing, sneezing, talking, or touching Influenza-infected objects.
Question 2: Is Flu or Influenza the same illness as Common Cold?
Influenza is not the same infection as Common Cold. They are both viral infections that target the respiratory system. Common Cold usually targets the Upper Respiratory System (nasal, paranasal and throat infections) and is caused by several minor viral infections. Common Cold usually presents as a minor illness characterised by a mild headache; slight rise in body temperature (fever); slight body aches; a sore throat; congested or a runny nose, mild cough etc.
On the other hand, Influenza is exclusively caused by the Influenza virus, which results in a more severe form of illness that primarily affects the Lower Respiratory System (major lower airways and lungs), with associated bodily symptoms including very high body temperature (fever) over 38 degrees Celcius, severe muscle aches (back, arms and legs), Severe Headaches, Fatigue and Weakness, Chills and Sweats etc.
Question 3: What Are the Major Complications of Flu illness?
As previously mentioned, Influenza or Flu viral infection is an illness that can have serious complications to ‘High Risk’ individuals who are already suffering from Chronic Illnesses, Old Age (over 65 years) or young age (under 5 years).
The following are the potentially deadly major complications:
- Pneumonia (‘Double Pneumonia’ to darkies)
- Severe Bronchitis
- Severe Asthma flare ups
- Heart Problems (Myocarditis etc.)
- Ear Infections in children
Question 4: Who should get a Flu Vaccination Jab?
Everyone (except those with allergies to the Flu vaccine or eggs) should get a Flu vaccination jab before the Flu season commences. The vaccination is, however, compulsory for the following categories of people, who are medically classified to be high-risk individuals for Influenza:
- Younger children less than 5 years of age
- Adults over 65 years of age
- Residents of nursing homes or long-term healthcare facilities
- People with weak immune systems (HIV infected or Diabetic or on individuals who are on Steroid tablets)
- People with Chronic illnesses such as:
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Obese People, especially if their Body Mass Index is 40 or higher
- Pregnant individuals or up to two weeks after delivery
Question 5: What is a Flu Vaccine?
A Flu vaccine is a collection of weakened or inactivated strains of the Influenza virus which were found to be responsible for driving the most recent Influenza epidemic during the Northern Hemisphere Winter season.
These influenza vaccines are grown on an egg culture medium; as such, they may contain some elements of the egg proteins, hence the risk of allergy for those people with known egg allergies.
Question 6: How Does a Flu Vaccine Offer Protection Against Flu Infections?
As previously mentioned, the Flu vaccine contains severely weakened or inactivated strains of the common Flu viruses which were responsible for the Flu epidemic in the Northern Hemisphere. Once the Flu vaccine is injected into a person, the live but severely weakened Flu viruses trigger an immune response from the body, which results in high levels of circulating antibodies.
It takes approximately two weeks for the body to develop full defence antibodies to the Flu vaccine viruses, and when the vaccinated person is later exposed to the Flu virus during the upcoming winter Flu season, the body will already have ready to strike defences to overwhelm and destroy that new Flu viral infection.
Question 7: How Effective Is the Flu Vaccine in Preventing New Influenza Infection?
The overwhelming majority of the people who receive a Flu vaccination do not get a Flu infection in that upcoming Flu season, however, a small percentage of vaccinated people may experience a mild form of Flu, with virtually no experience of incapacitating or deadly Flu related complications.
Question 8: Are there Any Side Effects to Flu Vaccination?
The Flu vaccine does have a few side effects which may develop within 24 to 48 hours, as follows:
- Injection Site:
- Raised body temperature;
- Muscle and Joint Pains.
Question 9: Where can One Go to Have a Flu Vaccination Jab?
Up until the middle of the month of May, anyone can obtain a Flu vaccine at any of the following places:
- Family Doctor/General Practitioners;
- Retail pharmacies
Most medical schemes in South Africa pay for the full cost of a Flu vaccine for any of their members who want to vaccinate against Flu infection and this includes the professional fees of the attending health care professional. Other medical schemes pay for Flu vaccination ONLY to those members and/ or dependents who fall under the ‘High Risk’ clinical category. If one is not a member or dependant of a medical scheme, then they can pay a reasonable fee of between R75-R100 per jab.
Question 10: Is there anyone who should not take a Flu Vaccine?
The following people should not get a Flu vaccine:
- Flu infection within the past two weeks;
- Allergic to eggs.