A-choo! Get vaccinated!

By Drum Digital
25 April 2014

Flu season is here and many parents are asking: should my kids and I be vaccinated? We tell you all you need to know about flu-proofing your family.

Many doctors and pharmacists will tell you that you should. Not only could this simple precaution spare you a red-nosed stint in bed, it could keep your family healthy, and we all know how those germs spread when there’s a runny nose around. It’s a vicious cycle! “Flu is a virus that affects everyone, regardless of age or health,” says Dr Romy Vietri, a general practitioner based in Cape Town. She gives us the how, what and why of the flu vaccine.

How does it work?

“The vaccine is an inactivated form of the flu virus, which means the virus is dead when you’re injected with it,” Dr Vietri explains.

“Every year researchers predict which strains of the flu virus will circulate then put together a new vaccine. Usually they aim to combat three to four strains of the flu.”

Some people say they don’t like the vaccination, complaining that it makes them sick. “That isn’t the case,” she says. “The vaccine will definitely not cause flu, although you might experience flu symptoms in the two weeks after receiving it.

“This happens when your body produces antibodies to arm itself against a possible virus infection but the symptoms aren’t contagious.”

Is it necessary?

“Yes, definitely,” Dr Vietri says. “The virus can affect anyone and, although it’s rare, people do die from flu every year. There are other complications related to flu that can be avoided if you have the vaccine, such as ear infections or being hospitalised when the flu is serious.”

Can pregnant women have the injection? And can my baby be vaccinated? “Yes. In fact, the flu vaccine is especially beneficial for people who are at high risk. This is anyone who has a low or suppressed immune system such as the elderly, pregnant women, young children, people with chronic conditions such as emphysema and those with HIV or TB. Babies can have the vaccine after the age of six months.”

Should I get it every year?

“Yes. Don’t think because you were vaccinated last year you’ll be fine this year,” Dr Vietri says.

“The virus is a sneaky one – it reproduces and transforms itself so it can re-infect people. That’s why we put together a new vaccine each year.”

Can I still get flu even if I have the vaccination?

“Yes: you could contract the virus in the two weeks after receiving the vaccine, simply because your body is still producing antibodies. Or you could contract a different strain – but that’s rare, as the three to four strains contained in the vaccine usually cover the most common range of flu viruses doing the rounds.”

What else can I do to protect myself and my family from flu?

“Start with good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially before you eat. I probably wash my hands about 30 times a day,” Dr Vietri says. She also recommends staying healthy in general. “Eat healthily, drink enough fluids, sleep enough and exercise. All of this builds your immune system.”

If someone in your family falls ill, prevent a round of infection. Make sure everyone – including the sick person – washes their hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing.

“Keep hand sanitiser or sanitising wipes throughout the house, and if it’s mom or dad who’s ill, keep a waterless hand cleanser on the bedside table.”

Opening windows to allow more ventilation in the room also helps, but remember the virus is transmitted not only by air but also through contact.

Where to get vaccinated

Most pharmacies and general practitioners offer the vaccination, so ask your doctor about it. Get yours at a MediRite Pharmacy at R55,99 a shot. For more information, go to www.medirite.co.za.

- Dalena Theron

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