Health

Don't flee the flu vaccine

Getting the jab can stop you and your loved ones from having multiple sick days every year

A cold is not the same as a flu.

While the two viral illnesses have some similar symptoms (stuffy runny nose, cough and sore throat), the flu comes with more intense discomfort, including a high fever that lasts several days, terrible aches and extreme exhaustion.

The flu can also cause deadly complications such as pneumonia and bacterial infections for at-risk groups such as pregnant women, those with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease and children below five.

And the surest way to guard yourself against it is to get vaccinated.

If you have not done so, it is high time to start getting your twice-yearly jab - especially for women.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, breaks it down.

We need it more in the tropics

Unlike in temperate countries where spikes in flu cases happen during the colder half of the year, we get two flu seasons in Singapore - April to June and towards the year-end - but doctors see cases all year round, no thanks to our tropical climate.

During periods of high rainfall, we experience higher ambient humidity - this leads to less evaporation of fluids that contain the flu virus, which allows the virus to survive longer, explained Dr Leong.

Also, bad weather forces people to gather in closed environments, increasing person-to-person contact. This means that throughout the year, we are exposed to the flu virus, and this requires our guard to be up.

Added Dr Leong: "The flu vaccine is akin to the system updates that are constantly pushed out to mobile phones to minimise vulnerability to virus attacks.

When a phone gets updated, it is protected from attacks. Translating it to our bodies, if you do not get vaccinated, you are vulnerable to attacks from influenza viruses."

It is not just you that the vaccine protects

Getting a vaccine is the best way to prevent falling sick and missing days at work or school. However, doctors believe the biggest benefit comes from this concept called "herd immunity".

When you get vaccinated and stay healthy, you wind up protecting your family members who may be in the at-risk groups. By not bringing the virus home, you can indirectly save the lives of your loved ones, said Dr Leong.

Women get added relief

Scientists at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that women are more likely to suffer a higher level of lung inflammation and slower recovery from the flu.

This is because compared with men, women's bodies produce less amphiregulin, a protein that is needed for wound healing and promotes growth.

By getting protected, you get to enjoy more healthy, energetic days to accomplish the tasks you set out to do.

Getting a jab is easy

All you need to do is go to your nearest GP every half a year.

"A recent study conducted by Tan Tock Seng Hospital found that 80.4 per cent of participants are able to protect themselves against three strains of the flu virus if they were administered with a second shot within six months," said Dr Leong.

Why everyone needs a flu vaccine

Today's quadrivalent flu vaccine protects you against four strains: Two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.

But because your body's response to the vaccine declines over time and flu viruses are constantly evolving (and vaccines are updated), you will need to keep up with the jabs every year.

This article first appeared in Shape (www.shape.com.sg)

MEDICAL & HEALTH