The flu vaccine is a powerful weapon in the war against illness.
The flu vaccine is a powerful weapon in the war against illness.
The flu vaccine is a powerful weapon in the war against illness.
The flu vaccine is a powerful weapon in the war against illness.
For many people, winter means flu, colds and endless visits to the doctor to survive the winter season.

However, it does not have to be like that if you prevent the flu symptoms, experts say.

The flu season in South Africa starts in the first week of May and lasts until September.

The good news is that South Africa seems to have outsmarted colds and flu viruses. According to a national survey, with the last flu season about a third of South Africans suffered only once from coughs and sniffles.

Gerhard van Emmenis, the principal officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, says flu strains, like fashion, change every year.

The next flu strain that South Africa can expect is nicknamed “Aussie Flu”. This particular strain - H3N2 - is a subtype of influenza A. The virus has been around for a while, but unfortunately flu strains have a built-in survival mechanism. They mutate or change to outwit the body’s immune response. Which is why each year flu vaccinations are updated, meaning last year's won’t necessarily protect you this year.

The symptoms include high body temperatures, body pain, sore throat, tiredness and loss of appetite.

“However, some flu strains may cause the symptoms to last for a longer time and to be more severe. The flu can also bring on headaches, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. In ­people with weaker immune systems, the flu is even more serious,” says Van Emmenis.

While many may fear flu shots, the Centre for Disease Control says: “Serious allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are rare. However, if you are allergic to eggs you need to notify your doctor.”

The centre adds that “a flu shot can’t cause flu. Flu vaccines given with a needle are made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are not infectious, or with no flu vaccine viruses at all. The most common side-effects from the shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given.”

The flu vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu and, if you do get it, it will be milder. The vaccine trains your body to recognise flu and fight it. More importantly, if you are vaccinated you will protect others via what is called “herd immunity”. This includes vulnerable members of the family such as small babies and the elderly, as well as those who are immune-compromised.

Annemarie Blackmore, the centre’s antimicrobial product manager, recommends a few more tactics to reduce one’s risk of infection:

* Keep up proper hygiene practices, which includes not sharing the same cutlery, crockery, water bottles, lip balm, towels etc.

* Be sure to also wipe down surfaces such as keyboards, tablets and phones to cut back on germs that could get near your face and mouth.

* Another factor that can turn you into a germ magnet is unmanaged stress. Studies show that chronic stress can diminish immune function, including natural killer cell (a type of white blood cell) activity, which helps fight viral infections. Try meditation, yoga, running and/or breathing techniques to keep colds and flu at bay during the last lap of the season, she advises.