Influenza, commonly known as flu, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus, which kills between 300 000 and 500 000 people worldwide every year. “Flu spreads easily from one person to another through droplet distribution when an infected person coughs or sneezes or, quite commonly, through hand-to-hand contact,” says Joy Cleghorn, national infection control and risk manager at Life Healthcare. Pregnant women, older people and those with heart or lung conditions are especially at risk of severe infection and even death.
“There are many ways to minimise the risk of infection, but one of the best is to get a flu vaccination,” says Cleghorn.
What is a flu vaccine?
A flu vaccination, also known as a flu shot, provides resistance to a variety of influenza viruses. This immunisation is updated and recommended annually. “It’s crucial to get the shot every year because the virus evolves quickly, so new flu vaccines are produced each year to keep up with rapidly adapting strains,” says Cleghorn.
Who can get the flu vaccine?
The flu shot is safe for babies older than six months, pregnant women and the elderly. It doesn’t work immediately, but takes about two weeks to become effective.
Will the flu vaccine prevent flu?
Getting the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick. But, should you get sick, the vaccine can reduce the risk of more serious flu complications that could result in hospitalisation and even death.
When should you not get the flu vaccine?
It’s advisable not to get the flu shot if you’re already sick with a fever, but you can get the shot if you have a respiratory illness without a fever or if you have another mild illness.
Other tips to minimise your risk of catching the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently. Flu can be transmitted through contaminated hands and commonly touched surfaces such as door handles.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as germs are spread this way.
- Try to avoid sick people or shaking hands with those who are ill.
- Eat healthy foods, including fruit and vegetables, and take your vitamin C supplements.
- Get plenty of sleep, exercise and manage your stress levels, as these factors can affect your immune system.