Flu season: All you need to know to stay safe

Flu season is right around the corner and this year we are facing it amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The flu may not be seen as the same kind of threat as Covid-19, but for some it can be just as deadly. Up to 650,000 people around the world succumb to flu every year. Preventing the flu is always important, but it is especially crucial now when we are already fighting Covid-19.

The flu has very similar symptoms to Covid-19 such as fever, nasal congestion, headaches, and severe muscle weakness and tiredness, which may lead to an increased number of unnecessary hospital admissions due to the fear of getting Covid-19. Fortunately, the same measures that help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 can also help prevent spread of the flu, such as: washing hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser; avoiding touching our face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 

When the novel coronavirus was discovered, the global public health and pharmaceutical communities almost immediately started working on a vaccine as it is the best way to overcome any public health emergency. Unfortunately, vaccine development does take time, and even once the vaccine is developed, it will take time for it to be manufactured and distributed globally. In the case of the flu, we have both the time and foresight to prepare ourselves, and fortunately, we already have a vaccine to prevent this disease from deepening the losses we have suffered.

The best way for us to fight the flu is by getting the flu vaccine before the winter season starts. While the flu vaccine will not protect us from developing Covid-19, it will strengthen our immune system and reduce the chances of getting the flu.

There are four human coronaviruses — 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 — that account for about 15 percent of common colds in humans. Adults may be infected with one of these on average every 2-3 years, which means that there could be a degree of pre-existing cross-reactive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 antigens in these people. It is possible that those susceptible to developing severe Covid-19 disease might benefit from the flu vaccination.

Even though the vaccine does not guarantee complete prevention from the flu, it can decrease the chances of us experiencing severe symptoms, and people older than six months can and should get the vaccine.

Here are a few facts to know about the flu vaccine:

— It decreases the risk of getting the flu. 

— It does not increase the risk of getting Covid-19 and might be even be beneficial especially for those at risk for developing severe Covid-19.

— It decreases the burden on frontline healthcare workers such as our doctors and nurses, who are already overstressed taking care of Covid-19 patients, by reducing the number of people who will get the flu and require hospital admission.

— The flu strain changes every year so researchers continuously work to evaluate which strains are the ones that are most likely to affect the population and so if you were vaccinated last year, it does not mean you will be protected this year.

— The best time to get the flu vaccine is before winter, around September or October.

With the flu season now only a few weeks away, we must prepare for the challenges it will bring for us and our community.

You can get your flu vaccine shot at Praava or talk to your family doctor via video consultation if you think you are showing symptoms of the flu. Stay informed and stay healthy this flu season. 

Dr Paramita Karim is a senior family doctor at Praava Health


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