A change of season is almost always a trigger of the flu. Furthermore, with new data showing that the 2012-2013 flu season in the Northern hemisphere was the worst in years, it is more important than ever to take preventative action.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that in the United States, the 2012-2013 flu season has proven to be the worst in the past 6 years, including the 2009 N1H1 (Swine flu) outbreak. 

Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, says based on the experience of the USA and Europe this winter, South Africans should prepare themselves for a challenging few months in terms of influenza viruses. “We are seeing newer, stronger strains of flu viruses this year which means that people will not be able to fight them off as easily as one might think. This is not just a concern for children and the elderly – but healthy individuals as well,” he says.

Anderson points to the latest outbreak of bird flu in China just last week. “Scientists believe that this outbreak is a new strain of bird flu – H7N9, which was not previously known to infect humans. With 63 reported cases of human infection and 14 deaths, the mortality rate is high, and we cannot stress how important it is to take precautions against it this winter,” he says.

Anderson urges South Africans to get themselves vaccinated against the flu virus as soon as possible – before the winter really sets in. “Vaccination is a very effective way to prevent flu. We advise everyone from 6 months of age and older to get a flu vaccination.”

Because the flu vaccine is deemed to fall in line with preventative healthcare, Profmed offers this as a benefit paid out of the risk profile account and, as such, members who are vaccinated will not have to cover this cost from their day-to-day savings account. “Those who are on medical aid should enquire with their medical schemes if the same benefit is offered,” explains Anderson. 

Anderson says there is a misconception that a flu vaccine will prevent one from getting sick at all. “This is not the case. It is possible that with a flu vaccine, you may still come down with a bout of flu during the winter months. However, the key difference is that people who have been vaccinated will not experience the severe and potentially life threatening symptoms of the virus. This is especially true in the case of children and people with compromised immune systems,” he says.

 “Because the flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers, its availability depends on when production is completed. Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients as soon as the vaccine is available in their areas. It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit from the vaccine even if you don’t get it until flu season starts,”  Anderson adds.

Anderson also says it is untrue that the flu vaccine will give you the flu.  “The vaccine will either kill the flu by means of a shot, or weaken the flu by means of a nasal-spray vaccine.  The vaccine is 100% safe and the only side-effect is the pain you will feel from the injection, which is likely to die down in a day or two.”

If you cannot be vaccinated against it, Anderson says people can take some practical measures or precautions against the flu such as washing your hands regularly and protecting your health by drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough sleep, eating healthy and avoiding being in close contact with those who are infected.”

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