With this year’s flu season expected to be more severe, South Africans should seriously consider getting their influenza jabs, a local disease expert warns.
Health-e News spoke to Professor Hannelie Meyer about why it is important to get a flu jab, when is the right time and what to expect from this year’s flu season. Meyer, head of the South African Vaccination and immunisation Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences, also explains the main differences between COVID-19, the flu and the common cold.
Flu vaccine basics
Why are we likely to experience a severe flu season in South Africa?
If we look at the previous two years, very little influenza was circulating compared to pre-COVID-19 seasons. This is because non-pharmaceutical interventions also limited the spread of other respiratory viruses, including influenza.
Due to measures such as the wearing of face masks, regular hands sanitising and social distancing, we have seen less flu of late. Also, most people were not travelling overseas as much as they used to before the pandemic, hence there was much less intercontinental influenza virus transmission.
Who is eligible to get a flu jab?
The flu vaccine can be given to any person from the age of six months, except if you have a history of severe allergy to the vaccine or any component of the vaccine.
Why is it important that we should all vaccinate against influenza?
The best defence against flu is to get vaccinated. Therefore we should try and vaccinate as many people as possible. So, if you have an opportunity to get the flu vaccine, go and get one as soon as possible.
Flu vs COVID-19
Can I get the flu and Covid-19 vaccine at the same time?
Yes, a person can get the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time, you no longer need to wait for 14 days between vaccinations.
A COVID-19 vaccine won’t protect you against the flu, because the two diseases are caused by two different viruses. The two vaccines are therefore different, as they protect against two different viruses.
Why is it difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of flu and those of Covid-19?
Symptoms of flu and Covid-19 are very much similar. For example fever, chills, headache, body aches, tiredness and sore throat. The only way we are able to be sure that it is not Covid-19, is through getting a Covid-19 test.
Can a flu vaccine give people influenza?
People often think that the flu vaccine will give them flu. It is important to understand that the vaccine is inactivated, therefore it cannot give you influenza. If you do present with flu shortly after receiving the vaccine, it means that either you had already been incubating flu at the time you got the flu jab, or you got the flu shortly after being vaccinated, before you had time to mount an immune response.
It’s all about the virus
What is the difference between a common cold and a flu?
The common cold is also caused by viruses, but these are totally different viruses from influenza viruses. The common cold is less contagious than influenza. You can catch influenza from someone about a day or two before that person actually starts showing symptoms. With the common cold, the virus spreads more during the first 2-3 days of showing symptoms.
— NICD (@nicd_sa) April 23, 2022
Besides getting a flu jab, what are other methods which we can use to protect ourselves from getting influenza?
Flu spreads easily from person-to-person through respiratory droplets and aerosols, especially when people are coughing and sneezing.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) stated that to prevent contracting flu one must:
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Stay home when a person is sick
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Wear your mask
- Clean hands regularly
- Avoid touching mouth, eyes, and nose
- Clean and disinfect common places.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that seasonal influenza is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses which circulate in all parts of the world. It represents a year-round disease burden, causing illnesses that range in severity and sometimes lead to hospitalisation and death. – Health-e News