Infuenza or the Flu

Flu or influenza is characterized by the abrupt onset of fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat and cough. Unlike other common respiratory illnesses, flu can be severely debilitating for a number of days resulting in inability to work or carry on with normal activities. Since flu is caused by a virus, general antibiotics cannot shorten the length or severity of illness but certain antiviral antibiotics can help to prevent or treat it.

Flu is spread by droplets made when a person with flu coughs, sneezes or talks. Flu can also spread by contact with surfaces that are contaminated by the flu virus. If you have the flu, cover your face and nose when you sneeze or cough. Do frequent hand washing and stay home from school or work. Getting the flu vaccine is the most effective way to preventing flu.

Flu vaccine

Flu vaccine consists of parts of three different strains of influenza virus that were in circulation the previous season. The vaccine has very few side effects, and a single injection in adults offers protection from flu for about one year. A new flu shot would have to be obtained the following winter to maintain protection. Flu vaccine of the previous 2 years has contained the H1N1 or the swine flu component and there has been no need of a separate swine flu vaccine.

Who should take the flu vaccine?

It is now recommended that any person over 6 months of age who does not have contra-indication to getting the flu vaccine should get it. The vaccine is considered safe, and has minimal side effects. The attack rate is high among travelers, who often are more vulnerable due to the stress of travel and congestion of many forms of public transport and restaurants. The vaccine causes antibodies to reach their full protective levels within two weeks. It is safe and effective for children over 6 months of age. Because children’s immune systems are not as developed as adults, previously unimmunized children from 6 months to 8 years of age should receive two injections a month apart to achieve full protection.

The months of peak risk in Nepal seem to be December, January and February and there usually is a smaller peak in the summer. The vaccine is considered safe to use at any stage of pregnancy and because pregnant women can have more severe illness from the flu, they are strongly recommended to get the flu vaccine. This will prevent flu in pregnancy and also minimize risk of flu in the baby since a baby less than 6 months old is not eligible to get the flu vaccine.

Who should not get the flu vaccine?

Anyone with a severe allergy to eggs (sudden itching, swelling or difficulty breathing after eating eggs) should not take the flu vaccine, as it contains a small amount of egg product. Getting hives following the flu vaccine is no longer considered a contra-indication.  These persons can get the flu vaccine with special precautions.