Beating influenza – myths and facts

By Dr Yolande Louw

GP, Intercare Silver Lakes

As a GP I have found that many people don’t know the difference between a common cold and flu. Influenza (flu) is caused by the influenza virus, usually has a rapid onset and causes severe symptoms within hours. Symptoms include fever, coughing, a stuffy nose and muscle and joint pain. Colds, on the other hand, are caused by an array of respiratory viruses, and it usually has a slower onset. It normally starts with a sore throat, runny nose and mild fever.

Influenza is a potentially deadly disease, and not just a winter inconvenience.

So what can you do to “boost your immunity”? There are numerous supplements that supposedly boosts one’s immunity but it makes very little sense scientifically as scientist do not yet have answers as to how we can actually boost certain immune cells to keep us from falling sick.

We can, however, keep our immunity in optimum shape with healthy living strategies like:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet, filled with fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control your stress levels.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infections - wash your hands regularly.
  • Regular medical screenings.

Myths about the flu shot:

  • “I’ve had the flu shot, so I can’t understand why I’m sick.”

The flu shot will only protect you against about 70% of expected flu cases. The influenza vaccine only contains 3 strains of influenza serotypes. Over the last few years it always contained the H1N1 and two other strains. So if you get another strain you will not be protected. The flu shot will also not protect you against any other cold viruses or airway bacteria.

  • “I’m not having the flu shot, as it makes you sick.”

It can’t. The influenza vaccine is a dead vaccine, and can’t make your sick.

  • “I’ve had the flu shot last year and thus won’t need it this year.”

The pharmaceutical companies claim in their package insert that the vaccine will give you cover for almost one year. So that will last you one season only. Because the vaccines are changed almost every year or two, even if you might have cover for a bit longer, the strains in the current one might be different.

  • “ My six month old baby is at home and not exposed to the flu viruses at the crèche”

Your baby can be exposed to the flu virus even when you are at the grocery store! Children under the age of 2 years are at a high risk for complications related to influenza. According to the World Health Organization recommendation, all children between the ages of six months and 5 years should get a yearly flu shot.

So who should get a Flu vaccination?

A yearly flu shot is recommended for the following people:

1) Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.

2) Persons above the age of 65 years.

3) Pregnant woman from their 2nd trimester onwards.

4) Anyone working in the health care industry.

5) Anyone with a chronic disease, like diabetes or COPD.

We are all exposed to this deadly virus. To some people it can be more dangerous than others, but we can all benefit from the vaccination. It is a safe - let’s beat influenza this winter!

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