Seasonal Flu: Why you should consider the vaccination
You may have heard of a lot of people you know having the flu and been surprised to learn that so many people living in Dubai are still affected each year by season flu – despite the sunny conditions and relatively mild winter. Here we look at seasonal flu; who is more likely to be affected and why it is very important that people consider a seasonal flu vaccination.
What is seasonal flu?
Seasonal flu is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It occurs every year, usually in the winter. The most likely viruses can be identified in advance and vaccines are then produced that closely match them. Vaccination is available to help protect people who are more at risk.
What harm can seasonal flu do?
For fit and healthy people seasonal flu can range from having symptoms similar to a cold to developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which may need hospital treatment. If people already have a serious disease, flu can be much worse. People sometimes think a bad cold is the flu, but having flu is often much worse than a cold: symptoms include fever, chills, headache, aching muscles, cough and sore throat. And because flu is a virus, antibiotics won’t treat it.
Some people are more susceptible to the effects of seasonal flu. For them it can increase the risk of more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, seasonal flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death.
If you are at an increased risk from seasonal flu it is important to consider having a seasonal flu vaccination. The vaccines are normally available from the beginning of October, but this depends on manufacturing.
Arrange to see your doctor, or alternatively your local pharmacist, in the autumn and get the best possible protection.
Are you at greater risk from the effects of seasonal flu?
Even if you feel healthy, you should definitely consider having a seasonal flu vaccination if you have:
• a heart problem
• a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis and emphysema
• a kidney disease
• lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
• a liver disease
• had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
• a neurological condition, e.g. multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
• a problem with, or the removal of, your spleen, e.g. sickle cell disease.
Paid and unpaid carers should also consider a seasonal flu vaccine, so that they stay healthy in order to benefit those they look after.
If you are pregnant and in an at-risk group, you can still have the seasonal flu jab. There are no reported problems from giving the vaccine to pregnant women.
If you have a child who has one of the conditions listed above, or who has previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection, they may not be able to recover from seasonal flu as well as other children can. They are more likely to be very ill if they catch seasonal flu, and it could make their existing condition worse. Talk to your doctor about your child having the seasonal flu vaccination.
Can the flu vaccine be given to your child at the same time as other vaccines?
Yes, the seasonal flu vaccine can be given at the same time as the routine childhood vaccines and at the same time as pneumococcal vaccine. The vaccination should be delayed if your child has a fever, but it can be given if they have a minor illness such as a cold.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t have the vaccination?
Most people can have the vaccine, but you should not be vaccinated if you have had a serious allergy to the vaccine in the past, or if you have a serious allergy to hens’ eggs.
If you have a fever, it is best to delay the vaccination.
A seasonal flu vaccination is your best protection
The vaccination will help your body to fight the flu virus. Your body starts making antibodies against the viruses about a week to ten days after the injection. These antibodies help to protect you for a whole year against similar seasonal flu viruses that you may come into contact with.
The seasonal flu vaccination will not protect you against:
• swine flu
• the common cold
• other winter viruses
The seasonal flu vaccine is very safe
Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected. Any other side effects are rare.
Side effects of the vaccination are minor compared with the risks associated with seasonal flu. The vaccine does not contain any live viruses, so it cannot give you flu.
Will the seasonal flu vaccine protect me completely?
Most people who have the seasonal flu vaccination will not get seasonal flu. However, like any vaccine, it does not give 100% protection. Out of every 100 people who have the vaccine, 70 to 80 will be protected, while the others are more likely to get milder symptoms.
If you remain at increased risk of seasonal flu in the future, you should have the seasonal flu vaccination every year. Because the viruses change every year, the seasonal flu that is around this year will be sufficiently different from last year’s to make people ill even if they had the vaccination last year. New vaccines are produced each year because they need to be changed to match the latest version of the virus in order to best protect you.
What to do next
If you belong to one of the groups mentioned above (and you are not allergic to hens’ eggs, to the vaccine, or to one of its ingredients), speak to your doctor about being vaccinated. Alternatively, you can get advice from your local pharmacist or for further information contact the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) toll free on 800 342 or visit www.dha.gov.ae.
It is best to have the seasonal flu vaccination in the autumn before any outbreak of seasonal flu. Remember that you need it every year, so don’t assume that you don’t need another vaccination because you had one last year.