Tam­ing of the flu

Now is the time to get vac­ci­nated, writes Lisa Salmon

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - This Week -

THE flu sea­son is just around the corner, and with cases of the virus al­ready start­ing to ap­pear, now is the best time to get your­self pro­tected.

Flu is a nasty and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous in­fec­tion, and its im­pact is of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated.

Be­tween Oc­to­ber 2017 and Fe­bru­ary 2018, 102 peo­ple died from flu ac­cord­ing to the Health Pro­tec­tion Surveil­lance Cen­tre (HPSC).

Over half (55%) of hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions were due to the in­fluenza B strain.

While the peak flu sea­son doesn’t usu­ally be­gin un­til De­cem­ber, now is the best time to get vac­ci­nated, as it takes be­tween 10-14 days for the im­mune sys­tem to re­spond fully after­wards.

Medics ad­vise that the op­ti­mum time to have a flu vac­cine is from the begin­ning of Oc­to­ber to the end of Novem­ber — if you have the vac­cine later, it will still offer some pro­tec­tion. 10 things you should know about flu: 1. When some­one with flu coughs or sneezes, ex­pelled droplets can in­fect peo­ple up to 6ft away.

In Ire­land, the an­nual flu sea­son runs from about Oc­to­ber to March or April, although most cases oc­cur be­tween De­cem­ber and Fe­bru­ary.

Flu can mean a trip to the GP or, worse, a hos­pi­tal stay. But, if you’re oth­er­wise healthy, the virus will usu­ally clear up on its own within a week.

The flu virus is ex­tremely vari­able and changes over time. Each year there are dif­fer­ent strains around, and a new vac­cine has to be pre­pared to deal with them. Vac­ci­na­tion from pre­vi­ous years isn’t likely to pro­tect peo­ple against cur­rent strains of flu.

Each year, the viruses most likely to cause flu are iden­ti­fied and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) rec­om­mends which type of strains to in­clude in the vac­cine.

Ox­ford Univer­sity’s Vac­cine Knowl­edge Pro­ject says there are three ba­sic types of flu: A, B and C. Type A is the most dan­ger­ous and can cause se­ri­ous dis­ease and trig­ger world­wide pan­demics. Type B can make you feel very ill, but has never led to a pan­demic, and Type C causes mild dis­ease.

Typ­i­cally, ef­fec­tive­ness of the flu vac­cine is in the range of 30-60%, and medics stress that hav­ing a flu vac­ci­na­tion won’t stop all flu viruses, and the level of pro­tec­tion may vary, so it’s not a 100% guar­an­tee that you’ll be flu-free.

How­ever, if you do get flu af­ter vac­ci­na­tion, it’s likely to be milder and short­er­lived than it would oth­er­wise have been.

Side-ef­fects of the nasal vac­cine may in­clude a runny or blocked nose, headache, tired­ness and loss of ap­petite. The in­jected vac­cine may have side-ef­fects in­clud­ing a sore arm at the site of the in­jec­tion, a low­grade fever and aching mus­cles for a day or two af­ter the vac­ci­na­tion. Se­ri­ous side-ef­fects with ei­ther the nasal spray or jab are ex­tremely rare.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion es­ti­mates more deaths are caused by flu than by car ac­ci­dents across the con­ti­nent each year. Yet, around 100 mil­lion peo­ple rec­om­mended for the flu jab an­nu­ally don’t take it up de­spite rec­om­men­da­tions from the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Re­search from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Lin­coln and Not­ting­ham sug­gests the flu vac­cine can re­duce the risk of hav­ing a stroke by about a quar­ter.

WARN­ING SIGN: More lives are lost to in­fluenza than to road ac­ci­dents each year.

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