I am delighted to now be a regular contributor to The Food Medic website of Dr. Hazel Wallace. Many of you I’m sure follow Hazel too, and I’m a big fan of her messages on social media as a fellow doctor. I recently wrote an article for Hazel’s website all about influenza (i.e. the flu!), and I wanted to share the link to it here plus a little summary of what you should know about the flu, and what you’ll read in the article.
Every year in Ireland influenza season runs October – April. Influenza (i.e. the ‘flu’) is an acute respiratory illness due to the influenza virus. There are 3 types affecting humans- A,B and C. The strain(s) that circulate & cause disease vary every year as the virus can undergo genetic changes. This year our vaccine will protect against FOUR strains – 2 A & 2 B!
Symptoms of the flu include – sudden onset of fever, coughing, muscle aches, headaches & fatigue. A person is infectious from 1-2 days BEFORE they get symptoms until up to 1 week after. It’s spread both directly via droplets of the virus from coughing, sneezing, talking and also indirectly via contact with surfaces contaminated with the virus (it can survive up to 24 hours on a surface!) .
The World Health Organisation monitors influenza all year around the world, in particular in March/April & October/November, making recommendations for the seasonal flu vaccine based on this – i.e. advising what strains of the virus should be included, so we try to match the vaccine to the circulating viral strains as best we can. . The virus in the vaccine is inactivated/killed – so literally, it can’t give a person the flu! It takes about 2 weeks to be effective. .
The vaccine is SAFE. Very few cannot get the vaccine – such as those with a/prior anaphylactic reaction to the vaccines/its constituents, & those on a certain type of cancer therapy. You can read more on this on via Ireland’s National Immunisation Office website (which is a brilliant resource!) here. Anyone of any age can get the flu, though some groups are at higher risk – so certain groups of people are strongly recommended to get the flu vaccine because of this higher risk of getting influenza and its possible complications In Ireland this includes;
- Adults aged 65 years & older
- Pregnant women (pregnant women can be vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy and the vaccine is very safe in pregnancy!)
- Healthcare workers, carers (formal and informal)
- Household contacts of those in at risk groups
- Persons working with poultry/pigs/water fowl
- Adults and children (6 months & above) with certain long term medical conditions (again you can read more on these conditions here) C
- Children and adolescents on long term aspirin
- Residents of nursing homes and long-term stay institutions
You can read my full article on the Food Medic website via the link here.
I’ve also explained and busted three common myths about the seasonal influenza vaccine below!
Myth #1: Can I get the flu from the seasonal flu vaccine?
Absolutely not. The viral strains in the seasonal flu vaccine are inactivated (i.e. killed i.e. dead) during manufacturing – so its physiologically impossible to ‘get’ the flu from it! Uncommon vaccine side effects include local reactions (e.g. a bit of redness/swelling where you got the vaccine) and even less commonly, some may experience symptoms of the body’s immune system making flu-fighting proteins (antibodies) like general aches, mild fever, feeling a bit meh – which lasts 1-2 days and is NOT the flu. An anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine is extremely rare (less than 1 in 1 million).
Myth #2: Does the vaccine protect me against the flu?
The vaccine is our best chance of protection against seasonal flu – plus protection for your patients if you work in healthcare/have family members in at risk groups! This year’s flu shot protects against FOUR STRAINS of flu as mentioned above. It takes approximately TWO WEEKS to be fully effective so getting vaccinated as early in the season as possible is key!
Myth #3: Is the vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Yes! As stated above, the seasonal flu vaccine is recommended at all stages of pregnancy, for every pregnancy and flu season. Influenza is associated with a greater risk of complications for pregnant women due to physiological changes to the body during pregnancy, and getting the flu during pregnancy increases risks of preterm birth and reduced foetal growth. Plus, getting vaccinated during pregnancy gives passive immunity to her baby for the first 6 months of life!
To learn more about where you can get the seasonal influenza vaccine in Ireland, check out the Irish Health Service Executive website here.