Why one needs to get vaccinated against flu

Preventive measures Wash your hands and get vaccinated  

One sneeze is all it takes to set off a panic-stricken reaction, thanks to the various reports of the H1N1 virus that seems to have spread across Tamil Nadu. Also called swine flu, the initial symptoms are similar to that of the common flu — cough, fever, and diarrhoea. Since both are viral in nature, it is not easy to differentiate in the early stages, says Dr Ramesh Gopalswamy, Mobile Medical Officer at Anaikatti-Attapady region and Quality Assurance Officer at the Government Tribal Speciality Hospital, Kottathara, adding, “But if you also have vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite, you need to see the doctor.”

Swine flu is highly contagious and communicability begins from day one of onset of symptoms. Younger children may potentially be contagious for longer periods. What can one do to stay safe? The first step, says Dr Gopalswamy, is to wash one’s hands regularly and properly. He lists other steps: Practise cough etiquette, don’t shake hands, avoid close contact with people who have flu-like illnesses, stay away from crowded places and, most important, stay at home if you have flu-like symptoms. What about wearing a mask? No need, he says but adds sternly, “no self testing or self medicating either.”

He suggests that everyone gets a vaccine but recommends that this is done under medical supervision since some vaccines are contraindicated for pregnant women. Children below eight years who are being vaccinated for the first time must have repeat dose with a four-weeks gap between the two. “Annual re-vaccination is mandatory,” emphasises Dr Gopalswamy, “because a new strain emerges every year.”

In Coimbatore, for the first time in their history, some paediatric hospitals have a waiting list for the seasonal flu vaccine. Dr Saranya Manickaraj, consultant paediatrician and neonatalogist, Womens Center by Motherhood, says that patients have to wait to get the shot. The vaccine, according to her, is the best preventive measure against seasonal flu.

“In India, the flu season is from September to February. We advise children between six months and five years be vaccinated two to four weeks before the season starts,” says Dr Saranya, so that the vaccine gets sufficient time to kick in before the peak season. Children in the high-risk category — such as those born pre-term, those with underlying respiratory issues such as asthma, kidney, liver and heart diseases — are advised to take the flu shot, available at any paediatric clinic for ₹1000. With Coimbatore seeing several incidences of fever, Dr Saranya advices parents to observe some precautionary measures.

Of which the first one is hygiene. The virus spreads through air and through contact with contaminated objects. Which is why washing hands thoroughly is important. Dr Saranya adds that children should be taught to sneeze into their shirt sleeves or shoulder instead of their palms as “most of them do not wash their hands after they sneeze.”

She also advises parents to keep children away from crowded or closed spaces — “including malls and indoor play areas” — and to approach a doctor if the child has a temperature of over 102 or 103 degrees. “Look out for symptoms such as prolonged fever, extreme fatigue, bad cough, vomiting and loose motion.”

When it comes to the care of senior citizens, gerontologist Dr Rahul Padmanabhan, Medical Director, Grand World Elder Care, suggests they take the flu shot “since the older people have lower immunity and are vulnerable.”

Wash hands properly and regularly

Wash hands properly and regularly  

How to wash hands properly

1. Wet your hands and apply enough soap; around a coin-sized blob of liquid soap

2. Rub palms together well

3. Rub the backs of each hand

4. Rub both hands together while interlocking fingers

5. Rub the backs of the fingers in each hand

6. Rub the tips of the fingers

7. Rub the thumbs and ends of the wrists

8. Rub in between the fingers

9. Rinse and dry

10. If you’re using a hand sanitiser, follow the above steps

Nine things to know about the flu shot

Even as parents grapple with whether to give their children the flu vaccine or not, considering it’s not on the essential list, and its high yearly cost, Dr Pratik Patil, Consultant, Infectious Diseases, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, helps us make an informed decision.

1. They are to be given annually, ideally two weeks before onset of monsoon or winter. The World Health Organization collects data from all over the world to pick up the most common strains and develop the vaccines.

2. The shot takes two weeks to generate immunity. It does not lower our natural immunity.

3. The vaccines are: Inactivated/Trivalent Vaccine that tackles three viruses HINI, H3N2, Influenza B (Approximately Rs 800); Quadrivalent Vaccine : HINI, H3N2 and Two strains of Influenza B (Approximately Rs 1, 500).

4. A Live Vaccine (nasal spray; approximately Rs 800-900) has been approved this year. This should not be used by those who are on steroid medication, pregnant women, people with HIV, those who’ve had an organ transplant or their family members, children with respiratory problems such as asthma, or those who are on aspirin

5. It’s near impossible to develop a vaccine for the thousands of influenza strains. If there is a virus that is different from those in the vaccine, then the vaccine won’t work on it. Also, in the process of making the vaccine genetic changes may occur in the viruses

6. Children from six months to five years must take the shot. The flu shot is not contra-indicated in pregnant women and it will, in fact, give the baby some immunity to flu. People over 50 years of age who have chronic illnesses, those on steroids, have had or are going to have an organ transplant, are HIV positive, those who spend time in hospitals and with the sick, and family members of all these vulnerable groups are advised the shot.

7. It is 50-60% efficacious. Techniques of vaccine making may have an effect on efficacy.

8. A person may get flu-like symptoms, but it may not be flu at all

9. It’s fine to healthy people to take the vaccine too, but soap and water and good hand hygiene are the most important in protection against sickness.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 12:30:47 PM |

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