The most effective way to prevent influenza is through annual vaccination. Picture: Reuters
The most effective way to prevent influenza is through annual vaccination. Picture: Reuters

When flu season comes around, make sure you're protected

By Staff reporter Time of article published Feb 12, 2020

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Influenza causes up to 650 000 deaths worldwide and over 11 000 deaths in South Africa each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

There are 4 main viruses (2 types of Influenza A viruses and 2 types of influenza B viruses) that cause seasonal flu.These viruses evolve annually in an unpredictable manner which determines their virulence (the severity of illness that they cause) and circulation.

Severe illness caused by influenza affects between 3 and 5 million people worldwide, including over 45 000 South Africans each year. Almost 50 percent of affected South Africans require hospitalisation.

Influenza viruses circulate worldwide at different times of the year, with South Africa’s seasonal influenza usually occurring between May and September.

The flu spreads quickly and can affect anyone, regardless of their state of health or their age.It can be particularly severe and complicated for people with chronic diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis (TB), diabetes and other metabolic disorders, as well as cardiac, pulmonary, renal, hepatic, neurological, haemoglobin and immunosuppressive disorders.

The most effective way to prevent influenza is through annual vaccination. It's also important to note that the flu vaccine may not be able to prevent influenza entirely, but it does reduce the severity of illness and the risk of complications, hospitalisation and death.

"Vaccines against influenza are rigorously tested for their ability to help the body prepare against seasonal influenza strains. This has been further reinforced by decades of broad use around the world in reducing influenza’s circulation and impact,” says Merilynn Steenkamp, Business Unit Head at Sanofi Pasteur in South Africa. 

Due to the mutation of the 4 viruses that cause seasonal flu, the vaccines are adapted accordingly to optimise immunity against the specific virus strains each year guided by the WHO.

"Recent influenza seasons have been rather severe with high rates of infection, hospitalisation and even deaths. 

"This appears to have coincided with a high level of influenza activity, dominated by the circulation of A/H3N2, which usually leads to increased mortality, particularly in the elderly and young children. Additionally, there was co-circulation of both influenza B viruses. Influenza is a serious and too-often risky infection, more so than many people believe,” concluded Steenkamp.

Ask your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare provider about what is new in flu in 2020.   

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