For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is upon us. Riding in it’s coat tails and holding on steadfast is all forms of cold and flus waiting to attach themselves onto anyone in their path.
In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, we saw the closure of a prominent primary school yesterday as a result of an outbreak of Influenza A. A reported 20-25% of staff and pupils diagnosed and listing as absent from school attendance.
One of the biggest questions I’ve seen being asked is why do people get sick more frequently in winter than in summer?
Well, it’s not the weather which is directly responsible for people getting sick, but rather that viruses tend to spread easier in lower temperatures. In drier climates it’s even suggested that because of the dry air conditions it is easier for viruses to enter the body.
How do we protect ourselves from picking up unwanted viruses?
Two of the most effective methods of prevention is hygiene and vaccinations.
If you are exhibiting signs of illness it is advised to stay home for the duration of your illness, to prevent the spread of the virus.
If you have no choice but to go into public spaces and risk exposing others, wear a face mask, wash your hands, cough into a hankerchief or into the elbow of your arm, not your hand. Keep sanitizer on hand to wash your hands regularly. Sanitise your hands before touching items and objects in public spaces that others will be exposed to.
The same goes for prevention. If you are going into public spaces, grab some sanitizer and wipe down objects that you may need to touch, or use a sanitizer wipe as a surface barrier between your skin and the object.
The second most effective method of prevention is vaccinations. While this can be a hot topic of discussion in other forums, it isn’t one in our world, it’s a non negotiable for our family.
What are we vaccinating against?
Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) develops a flu vaccine for protection against specific strains of Influenza. The annual vaccination normally provides protection against three strains of the flu which is predicted to be the greatest threat for that year.
This year the vaccination is designed to provide immunity against two different Influenza A strains and one Influenza B strain.
Influenza A can be found in humans, animals and birds while Influenza B is isolated to humans.
Who should be vaccinated?
In an ideal world we should all be receiving a vaccination to best protect us.
The most at risk of individuals, as well as their family members should vaccinate themselves. At risk individuals are best described as those who:
- Babies and small children;
- Immune compromised individuals (HIV-positive individuals and individuals receiving radiation or chemotherapy);
- Individuals who are over the age of 65 years;
- Asthmatics and emphysema sufferers;
- Individuals who suffer chronic from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart issues, organ issues; and
- Woman in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.
Can the vaccination make me sick?
There is a misconception that the Influenza vaccination can actually give you the very viruses which it is designed to combat. This is false. It does not contain the live virus, but it can exhibit mild ‘flu-like’ symptoms which are short term in duration. It can have some side effects (as is the risk with any medication) but the side effects should be no more than some pain, redness or swelling around the site of the vaccination, muscle aches and drowsiness. In rare cases allergic reactions have been reported, but the risk versus reward outweighs this concern.
Why should we vaccinate?
The flu causes an estimated 6 000-11 000 deaths every year in South Africa alone. The most affected are the elderly who account for nearly 50% of deaths, followed by 30% being related to HIV-positive patients. The highest rates of hospitalization occurs between children of 5 years age and under along with elderly and HIV-positive individuals. Last year in South Africa 8-10% of patients hospitalized for pneumonia and 25% of patients who showed flu-like symptoms tested positive for influenza.
When should I or a loved one have one?
Just ahead of the flu season is the best time. But if you missed that, then right now!!! Vaccinations are available at most pharmacies. Most medical aids cover the injection and if medical aid doesn’t, it costs near R100.00 for a vaccination.
How long will it protect me?
Remember that the vaccine itself needs around 10 days from administration to become fully effective. It should keep you protected for the duration of the winter/flu season. But understand that you are not protected against all strains of influenza, only those which the vaccine was designed to combat.
Please note that I am not a medical practitioner and it is always advisable to consult with your family doctor, specialist and/or paediatrician about your overall health and well being.