Adopting a healthy, active lifestyle with a balanced diet, ample exercise and good hygiene practices go a long way in enabling us to stay safe and healthy.
But with life transitioning to a post-pandemic normal and many of us making plans to travel the world again, it may be time to consider ramping up our personal protection and taking precautions against other commonly encountered illnesses such as influenza, more commonly referred to as the flu. After all, the last thing we’d want to contend with is having to suffer through the symptoms and anxiously decipher whether we’re down with COVID-19, a cold, or the seasonal flu.
Dr Chew Chun Yang, family physician at Parkway Shenton Medical Clinic in Serangoon Central, shares more about the flu and 4 reasons why we should get the flu vaccine annually.
1. The flu spreads easily
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, is an endemic disease around the world. It is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. There are two distinct flu seasons in temperate countries, while in tropical regions, outbreaks occur throughout the year.
A highly infectious disease, the flu usually spreads by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even speaks. Infection happens when a person comes into contact with a contaminated surface and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
Anyone (including the healthiest among us) can catch the flu, and serious problems related to flu can occur at any age. However, some people are more likely to get complications if they fall sick with flu.
2. The flu can be nasty
The flu is generally a more severe disease than the common cold. Flu symptoms often consist of fever, headache, body ache, sore throat, runny nose or stuffy nose, cough and fatigue. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than in adults.
The flu can also lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, middle ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis and worsening of chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma exacerbation or other lung diseases. At its worst, it may even cause death!
The following groups of people are at higher risk of developing complications from a flu infection, which is why they’re highly recommended to receive a flu vaccination for protection:
Young children between 6 months to 5 years of age
Seniors aged 65 years or older
Children and adults with chronic medical conditions including but not limited to: lung diseases (e.g. asthma), heart diseases, metabolic diseases (e.g. diabetes), kidney diseases, neurologic disorders (e.g. stroke), liver diseases, or blood disorders (e.g. leukemia)
Children and teenagers who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and therefore might be at risk for developing Reye’s syndrome after a flu infection
Anyone with a weakened immune system as a result of medical treatment or disease such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Women at all stages of pregnancy
3. Vaccinations offer flu protection
The quadrivalent flu vaccine, which is available at all Parkway Shenton clinics, offers effective protection against the flu.
The vaccine contains inactivated (killed) influenza virus strains. When it is injected into the arm intramuscularly, it will trigger an immune response towards influenza and better prepare our bodies to fight against infection should we ‘encounter’ the virus later.
This flu vaccine is very safe with most reactions being mild. Some of the more common reactions include pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site, body aches, fatigue, headaches and fever. Paracetamol may be taken to relieve these symptoms if they are experienced. Serious reactions to the flu vaccine are very rare.
4. The vaccines for COVID-19 and flu are different
If you’ve already been vaccinated against COVID-19, you may wonder if you still need to receive a flu vaccine. The answer is “yes”, because while the symptoms of COVID-19 and flu may be similar, they are actually due to different viruses.
COVID-19 vaccines do not protect against influenza. Similarly, influenza vaccines do not offer protection against COVID-19 infection.
You will still need to take the flu vaccine if you have taken COVID-19 vaccines. In general, it is recommended to wait an interval of 2 weeks between getting a COVID-19 vaccine and other non-COVID-19 vaccines.
The flu vaccine is available at all Parkway Shenton clinics with subsidies available for CHAS, Pioneer or Merdeka Generation cardholders. Speak to any of our doctors at Parkway Shenton to learn more about how a flu vaccination can help protect you and your family today.
Article contributed by Dr Chew Chun Yang, family physician at Parkway Shenton Medical Clinic, Serangoon Central