Winter is well on its way. We become more susceptible to viral infection as the days get shorter and colder. And while most of us have a book of home remedies to cure ‘the snotties’, the influenza virus is more dangerous than you might think. The National Institute for Communicable Disease in South Africa records between 7 000 and 12 000 seasonal influenza-associated deaths every year.
Babies, young children, the elderly and those with heart disease and diabetes are especially vulnerable to the influenza virus during colder months. But for most of us, getting the flu is just completely inconvenient and a burden on our stretched pockets. Medical practitioners confer that having yourself vaccinated against the flu is one of the best preventatives out there. But, there are a few important things to consider before getting the jab.
How Does The Flu Vaccine Work?
Each year, two influenza vaccine strains are developed. These vaccines are engineered to match the most prominent flu strains during the season. Two weeks after receiving the jab, you should begin to build up an immunity to these strains. However, you may still fall ill. But, studies show that the severity and duration of your illness may be reduced as a result of having been vaccinated.
Children as young as six months old can receive the flu vaccine. Although, all children aged between six months to nine years old must receive two doses of the vaccine, at least one month apart. This will ultimately boost their immune response. Children who suffer from respiratory illnesses should receive the flu vaccine, as it can help prevent severe complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.
In people older than 65, the flu vaccine also has many benefits. It is especially beneficial for those who have had a recent heart episode, those who have low immune response or other respiratory illnesses. For younger adults, getting vaccinated can save on missing out work days, paying for doctors bills and expensive over the counter medication.
It is estimated that it can cost up to R15 000 a night for a stay in an Intensive Care Unit. This sure is a hefty price to pay, especially if you are not covered by a medical aid or hospital plan. The flu vaccine can reduce your chance of being hospitalised for an extended stay by up to 50%. For parents with sickly children, being immunised can prevent passing on the illness to them. It also allows you to keep playing super mom or dad, all the while staying afloat at work. Caregivers, nurses and teachers may also consider it wise to get the vaccine.
Overall, while getting the flu vaccine cannot entirely prevent seasonal infections, it can reduce your recovery time and the possibility of being hospitalised. This saves you valuable time and money. Plus, you may actually be able to enjoy winter for a change!
Common side effects of the flu vaccine include:
- Pain, redness and swelling in the area where you were immunised
- Drowsiness, tiredness or irritability
- Muscle aches
- Low grade fever of 37 to 38°C.
In addition to these side effects, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary season to season. The vaccine can prove less effective if the strain has not been well matched to the most common virus strain of the season. The vaccine is also known to be less effective in combating certain sub-types of flu, such as Influenza A (H3N2).
Not all vaccines are suitable for vegetarians, vegans or others who follow strict dietary specifications for religious reasons. People with an egg allergy are also susceptible to more severe side effects. Always consult with your doctor before receiving the flu vaccine to ensure that the ingredients do not contradict your dietary lifestyle.
Where To Get It
Both Dischem and Clicks pharmacies offer flu vaccines at their over the counter dispensaries. Certain medical aids cover the cost of the flu vaccine.
Please note that this article is not intended to replace consultation with a medical professional. We are journalists, not qualified doctors.