Winter is coming: Experts encourage South Africans to get flu vaccine

by WeCare
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Every year, between three and four million people worldwide become very ill with influenza, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Given that influenza season is coming up, this year’s flu vaccine is now available in South Africa.

There are several types of flu caused by distinct viral strains, and the influenza virus mutates every year.

Each year, a new vaccination is produced and released in order to keep people safe. This is according to family physician and medical director of Netcare’s Primary Care division, Dr Cathelijn Zeijlemaker.

Every year, between three and four million people worldwide become very ill with influenza, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) both agree that vaccination is the most effective strategy to prevent influenza.

Those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, pregnant women, and young children are most vulnerable.

“If you are living with someone vulnerable, you should consider vaccination, as this will prevent you from spreading the flu, and so protects your loved ones,” said Zeijlemaker.

“Each year in September, the WHO’s technical consultants advise which strains of the influenza virus should be included in the next year’s flu vaccine for the Southern Hemisphere to ensure that the protection provided is up to date.”

The influenza vaccine does not protect against all of the usual colds that people develop during the winter. Although the symptoms are similar, they are milder and shorter in duration.

Influenza symptoms include body aches, fever, nasal congestion, weariness, and coughing, which prevent you from continuing with your typical everyday activities.

Children have the highest rates of seasonal flu infection, which can lead to increased transmission within communities.

“Although most people start to feel better after a few days of rest, influenza can cause severe prolonged illness and complications. It is therefore very important to seek medical advice if you are not getting better, start to feel worse or experience chest pains or shortness of breath,” she said.

“To beat the seasonal flu, it is worthwhile having your annual influenza vaccine early, as it takes approximately two weeks for your body to develop full protection. Although the peak flu season usually coincides with the colder weather in winter, it is unpredictable when a flu outbreak will occur.”

Zeijlemaker stated that it is not uncommon for the influenza vaccination to cause mild side effects such as redness, swelling, and soreness at the injection site, as well as a mild fever, rash, headache, or body aches.

These symptoms usually appear shortly after immunisation and are minor and brief. As with other medications, there is always a small risk of a severe allergic reaction.