The flu season in South Africa typically occurs over the winter months from May to August. Although it has commenced in South Africa, it is not too late to protect yourself with this year’s flu vaccine.
Dr Pete Vincent of Medicross Tokai and Netcare Travel Clinics says the flu vaccination takes some 10 days from its administration to become fully effective against strains of this highly infectious illness, which is linked to the deaths of many South Africans every year.
The benefits of getting the flu vaccine
“The flu virus is constantly mutating and changing and, while many different types of flu virus strains exist, the annual vaccine is designed to protect against the main flu strains that are likely to be in circulation during that particular flu season,” notes Dr Vincent.
He says the flu vaccine is considered by healthcare authorities around the world, including the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa, to offer individuals and communities the best protection available against influenza.
“Getting vaccinated against flu is the responsible thing for all South Africans to do. It is, however, particularly important for those who are at high risk of developing complications from the flu virus, including individuals who have weakened or immature immune systems.”
A further benefit of the flu vaccine, and one that is often overlooked, is that even if you do get the flu, the illness is likely to be considerably milder than it would be were you not vaccinated against it. The vaccine also assists in preventing, or limiting serious complications.
Who is most at risk of developing serious complications from flu?
- Those who are 65 years of age and older.
- Individuals who have respiratory conditions such as asthma or emphysema.
- People who may have compromised immune systems such as HIV-positive individuals, or those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer.
- Those who have chronic conditions such as compromised heart or kidney function or diabetes.
- Women who are in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.
- Babies and small children.
Why you should get vaccinated today
“The more individuals who have the flu vaccine administered, the better the protection against a general flu outbreak among the population tends to be. Therefore, we not only protect ourselves when we are vaccinated, but we may also protect others who may be more vulnerable to the effects of the virus,” says Dr Vincent.
He adds that flu negatively impacts your immune system, making those who are at a higher risk of contracting the flu virus, considerably more prone to developing other secondary infections and potentially serious complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
More about the flu vaccine
A flu vaccine is developed annually according to the World Health Organization (WHO) strain recommendations, for both the southern and northern hemisphere flu seasons. “The annual Southern Hemisphere vaccine that is available to South Africans, usually provides protection from the three strains of the flu virus that are identified by WHO researchers as likely to be the most prevalent during that particular season. This year’s Southern Hemisphere trivalent vaccine protects against two influenza A strains, and one influenza B strain,” says Dr Vincent.
Yes, the flu vaccine can have side effects in some individuals, but these are almost always mild and of short duration. The side effects may include some pain, redness and swelling at the site of the vaccination, drowsiness and muscle aches. Dr Vincent says a few individuals may suffer a severe allergic reaction, but this is very rare.
“It is a myth that the vaccine can cause a flu infection, as it does not contain the live virus. It can cause some mild ‘flu-like symptoms’, including a low-grade fever, in some individuals, which is no doubt where this idea originated,” Dr Vincent stresses.
“The flu vaccine is safe and, while it does not always offer a complete safeguard against infection, it does usually offer a good measure of protection, particularly when the year’s vaccine has been well matched to the strains of virus in circulation. In fact, this vaccine can, and does save many lives every year and we recommend that all South Africans should consider having it,” Dr Vincent concludes.
The 2019 flu vaccine is available through Medicross medical centres, Netcare Travel Clinics, and the pharmacies located within Netcare hospitals.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.