Follow us on:

All you need to know about Flu and the Flu Vaccine

By Faeza
24 April 2017

Called ‘seasonal influenza,’ flu spreads very quickly, especially in crowded areas such as schools and public transport.  When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets infected with viruses spread and people close by breathe them in.  The virus can also be spread by contaminated hands. To prevent transmission, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and wash their hands regularly.

A cold is not flu

Colds are viruses too.  According to the Mayo Clinic there are more than 100 viruses that cause colds. Like flu, colds hit the respiratory system causing a runny or stuffed up nose, watery eyes, perhaps a sore throat and sometimes a cough. You might also get a low fever.

But, unlike flu, colds come on slowly. Most people can feel themselves getting sick at least a day in advance.

What exactly is flu?

Flu is a viral infection that targets your head and chest – usually coming on suddenly.

You may experience some of these symptoms:

  • A high fever (higher than 39°C) with chills
  • Dry cough or sore throat
  • Blocked nose or nasal discharge
  • Sweating and shivering
  • Muscle aches and pains, especially in the legs
  • Fatigue and wanting to sleep all day

Get a flu shot

Bonitas Medical Fund recommends having a flu vaccine and says it is the first line of defence when it comes to protecting yourself, with studies showing it reduces the risk by about 50 to 60%.  The vaccine trains your body to recognize flu and fight it. There are three types of flu viruses: A, B, and C. Type C has the mildest of all the symptoms but type A and B are the cause of the flu epidemics each year.

The vaccine is made up of a small, inactive part of that season’s flu virus. Being inactive, it cannot infect your body with the virus, yet it allows your body to make antibodies to fight it. In that way you’re building up immunity. Should a pandemic occur, at least your body has had time to acquire immunity against the current circulating flu viruses.

Most medical aids offer one free flu vaccine a year and it’s a good idea to take up the offer, otherwise head to your doctor, pharmacy or clinic and pay for a vaccine.

‘The annual flu vaccine protects you against the current season’s three or four most common flu virus strains,’ explains Gerhard Van Emmenis, Acting Principal Officer of Bonitas.‘Besides protecting yourself it also protects the people around you, especially those more susceptible to getting ill and, if you do still get flu, it will be very much milder.

‘About 14.08% of absenteeism in corporate South Africa is related to influenza,’ says Van Emmenis, ‘although the vaccine isn’t perfect and there’s no 100%  guarantee, it is by far the best way to lessen your chances of getting it. By doing this you can play a part in maintaining your wellness and keeping yourself healthy.’

Bonitas advises everyone to have a flu vaccine but particularly those in high risk groups and it’s best to have this before the end of April. These include:

  • People aged 65 or older, especially if living in a retirement home
  • Anyone with a heart and lung problems, including asthma or with chronic illnesses like anaemia, diabetes or kidney failure
  • Immune-suppressed people, including those who are HIV-positive
  • Caregivers and close contacts of any of the above.
  • Smokers, as they are more prone to respiratory illnesses
  • Cancer sufferers
  • Children under the age of 12 years