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Now the time to get your annual flu shot

News - Date: 21 April 2018

Written by: Andries van Zyl / Viewed: 411

 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Wednesday issued a warning that the influenza season is approaching.

The influenza season in South Africa occurs in the winter months and is expected to start in the coming weeks. On average the season begins in the first week of June. The NICD, however, stated that in past years, the season has started as early as the last week of April and as late as the first week of July.

A severe influenza season was experienced in the United States of America and Europe in the winter of 2017 to 2018. “A severe season elsewhere in the world does not mean that South Africa will necessarily experience a severe season in 2018. The severity of a season is due to a combination of factors including the circulating influenza strains, previous immunity in the population and spectrum of underlying illnesses and age distribution of the population. The NICD monitors the progression and severity of the influenza season through its surveillance sites throughout the country to provide real time information on season progression,” said the NICD in a press release.

It is clear that influenza should not be taken lightly. “Annual influenza epidemics result in an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 deaths globally. In South Africa, influenza (commonly known as flu) kills between 6 000 and 11 000 people every year,” said the NICD.

According to the NICD about half of those deaths are in the elderly, and about 30% in HIV-infected people. The highest rates of hospitalization are in the elderly (65 years and older), HIV-infected people and children less than 5 years old. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of hospitalization and death from flu infections. “People with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis and heart disease are also at increased risk of being hospitalized from the flu. During the flu season in South Africa about 8 to 10% of patients hospitalized for pneumonia and 25% of patients with flu-like illness (fever and cough) will test positive for influenza,” said the NICD.

The NICD said that vaccination is the most effective strategy to prevent influenza. “Getting the flu vaccine can reduce flu illnesses, visits to the clinics or to doctors rooms, missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. Vaccinating people with higher risk of severe flu directly protects them from flu infections,” said the NICD. They added that vaccinating pregnant women has been shown to provide protection to both mother and baby during the flu season. HIV-infected adults without severely weakened immune systems respond well to the vaccine too. Vaccination, said the NICD, is also recommended for individuals aged 65 years and older, as well as individuals with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis and heart disease.

According to the NICD, influenza vaccine for the 2018 season is currently available at public health facilities and at pharmacies. “Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for protective antibodies to develop, it is recommended that people get vaccinated as soon as possible to ensure that they are protected before the influenza season starts. The best time to get the flu vaccine is before the season starts (March to June) but getting it later will protect individuals during the rest of the season. Because influenza viruses are constantly changing and immunity from vaccine lasts for about a year, it is necessary to get vaccinated each year before the influenza season,” said the NICD.

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Andries van Zyl

Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.

Email: andries@zoutnet.co.za

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