Influenza season is almost here. Flu is spread from one person to another for eg by holding escalator rails, touching a trolley handle, pressing a lift button, handling gym equipment, having someone with the virus cough or sneeze near you – even shaking their hand.
Merilynn Matthew, GM Sanofi Pasteur, South Africa says “Many people do not know that they are more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with influenza. The flu virus inflames your heart muscles, increasing the risk of heart attack. The risk can continue months after the infection has left your system. Similarly, if you suffer from diabetes, flu can pose increased complications. The flu causes your body to release extra glucose into your system in response to infection.
“Certain groups that are more prone to not only being infected with the flu virus but also the serious complications that can come with it. Children under the age of five, pregnant women, people suffering from chronic diseases and those over the age of 65.
“Decades of epidemiology studies have shown that the circulation of influenza viruses is highly unpredictable every year. The circulation of the 4 main influenza virus strains varies in time all through the influenza season and varies across geographies.
What Can Be Done?
“The most successful intervention for seasonal influenza has proven to be the flu vaccine. Every public health body, including the WHO and the US CDC, strongly recommends the administration of the flu vaccine to reduce the risk of infection with influenza strains and the subsequent complications that can affect patients, especially those in known high-risk groups such as pregnant women, diabetics, the elderly, and those infected with HIV.
This is not to say that people who do not fall within these high risk groups should forego the vaccination. Everyone is at risk of contracting flu. Importantly, getting the vaccination is something that will benefit a person directly and will also help the flu from spreading to people who are at a higher risk of developing serious complications. This is often referred to as ‘herd immunity’ – where the collective community that are vaccinated indirectly assist ‘protect’ the more vulnerable members of society who cannot be vaccinated at that time,” says Mathew.
In a recent study, the vaccine significantly reduced deaths due to influenza induced stroke, heart attack, diabetes complications, pneumonia and childhood deaths.