Every two months an article from our community publication 'HealthFirst' is placed in this section of the website.
Beating Winter Flu
With winter approaching, it’s a reminder to put flu vaccinations at the top of the list of priorities this month.
In winter the chance of contracting the virus is at its greatest and so between March and June, General Practitioners are providing free flu shots to members of the community who are particularly susceptible to the effects of the virus.
‘People over the age of 65 and those with existing health problems such as diabetes, chest conditions, heart disease, and cancer are at particular risk from contracting the virus,’ says Dr. Mel Brieseman, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health. ‘By offering free vaccinations we not only ease the financial and social burden on these people but we can also ease the pressure on the health system by ensuring those at serious risk are protected.’
People over the age of 65 and with serious health problems are often more prone to contracting the virus and may suffer complications or more severe symptoms that may lead to hospitalisation, pneumonia or even death. The risk of hospitalisation for those who contract the virus is reduced by half if they get a flu shot.
While it is imperative that those who are most susceptible to possible infection accept the Ministry of Health offer of a free vaccination, Community and Public Health point out that there is also value in others getting immunised. This is particularly important among those who provide care to others, in order to prevent the spread of infection to those at special risk. Many employers have also found that investment in a staff vaccination programme results in decreased absenteeism in the work place. Workplace immunisation programmes are therefore commonly provided and are valuable in disease prevention.
The influenza virus has three major types (A, B and C). Only the first two of these affect humans. The vaccine protects against the current strains of these two types. Annual vaccination is essential because the flu virus strains vary from year to year and a new vaccine needs to be given to cover those changes.
Vaccinations are the best way for people to protect themselves against the flu virus. However Community and Public Health also recommend that people are more conscious of personal hygiene during the winter months.
‘People need to adopt a cough etiquette whereby they cough directly into a tissue and immediately dispose of it. Regularly washing your hands is also a good way of preventing the spread of influenza and other bugs,’ says Dr. Brieseman.
While vaccinations aren’t 100% foolproof, influenza vaccinations are 70 – 90% effective in preventing Influenza A and B viruses from infecting people under the age of 65. The chance of someone over the age of 65 experiencing complications, including pneumonia, if they contract the virus is reduced by over 50%.
It can take around two weeks for the vaccination to give full protection. Free flu shots for over 65s are available until the end of June. People should consult their GP or nurse to see if they qualify for a free flu vaccination.
According to Dr Brieseman, immunisation cannot give you the flu since it does not contain any infective units.
‘There are, of course, many other viruses around in winter and there will be no protection against these through the influenza vaccination. It is contracting one of these other viruses following immunisation which gives the mistaken impression that the injections cause flu,’ he says.
Influenza immunisation is FREE for the following people:
Anyone aged 65 and over
Anyone under the age of 65, including children, with any of the following conditions:
stroke and related diseases
ongoing respiratory (chest) diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma needing regular preventative medication
ongoing renal (kidney) disease
other conditions that affect the immune system such as HIV/AIDS, auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, organ transplants or being on medications which suppress the immune system.
For more information talk to your family doctor or practice nurse, or call 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).