Specialist Recommends Yearly Influenza Vaccine For High Risk Groups

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KUALA LUMPUR – People at high risk of contracting the influenza virus are advised to get vaccinated yearly.

Sungai Buloh Hospital general medicine department head, Datuk Dr Christopher Lee said influenza could lead to severe illness and death.

In this regard, pregnant women, children aged six to 59 months, above 65 elderly people, healthcare workers, as well as individuals with specific chronic diseases such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma and chronic heart or lung diseases are encouraged to get vaccinated against the virus.

“If people in these categories get vaccinated, there is a 50 to 70 percent chance of risk reduction. Therefore, for those people in the risk categories, we would advise them to get vaccinated every year because it does protect them,” Dr Lee told Bernama recently.

On April 16, the Terengganu health department confirmed that a pregnant woman had died of the Influenza A virus (H1N1) three days earlier (April 13). On April 18, the health ministry said seven of the woman’s family members suffered the same symptoms, of which one was confirmed to be an H1N1 case.

Dr Lee who is also a senior consultant physician for infectious diseases, emphasised that H1N1 is not a new virus as it was introduced to the world in 2009 and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in June the same year.

“We did not have vaccines then (in 2009) but we do have them now. Most government hospitals stock them but we may not be able to vaccinate everyone due to a depletion in stock supplies or we are not financially able to do so,” he said.

He said in cases where vaccines at government hospitals were not available, the public could get vaccinated through their general practitioners (GP).

“You can get vaccinated through your GP or at private clinics/hospitals but the cost of it depends on the brand. It (vaccine) can be as low as RM40 to RM50 or even up to RM100,” he said.

According to him, there is a vaccine that covers three different influenza strains (trivalent) and another vaccine that covers four different strains of the virus (quadrivalent).

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends yearly flu vaccine from an age as early as six months.

It said influenza vaccine is needed every year because the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time and, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses.

On the difference between a common cold and influenza, Dr Lee said influenza is characterised by an abrupt fever, dry cough, sore throat and runny nose, among others, whereas the common cold is usually typified by runny nose.

“I know sometimes people use the word ‘flu’ very loosely. However, flu does not always mean influenza. Common cold does not kill but influenza can lead to complications such as pneumonia that causes death in certain cases.

“The fact is, flu is not a scientific term but influenza is. People think flu is short form for influenza but it is actually a misnomer and not the correct term,” he said.

He further explained that a throat swab would be administered to confirm influenza cases if it was necessary for doctors to do so, particularly for patients in the high risk categories.

Dr Lee said in temperate climates like the United Kingdom, seasonal epidemics occur mainly in winter, while in tropical countries like Malaysia, influenza seasonality is less obvious and epidemics could occur throughout the year.

“Most people in the low risk category (a healthy person with no underlying medical conditions) will do well subsequently a day or two after they contract the virus, provided they get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take paracetamol.

“Influenza is preventable but it is not something new anymore. Unfortunately for us, it happened to be a pregnant woman who contracted it earlier this month and we lost her because of this. It was a timely reminder that influenza can kill,” he said.

Dr Lee also recommended that Malaysians practise cough etiquette to reduce the spread of respiratory illness to others, as well as to make it a habit to carry and use hand sanitisers when necessary.

“Colds and flu have the ability to be transmitted easily through droplets from one person to another and can be spread through touch via hard surfaces or cloth. It is crucial for us to practise cough etiquette, whereby you sneeze or cough into your sleeve, upper arm or disposable tissues.

“You must always wash your hands after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. However, if you are unable to have access to soap and water, you may use a hand sanitiser as it is more convenient to do so for people on the move. Wear masks too if you need to be in close proximity to other people,” he added. – BERNAMA

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