Influenza is caused by the Influenza A or B virus.
Influenza A is usually more severe than Influenza B.
It occurs seasonally in winter – in Australia, between June and September.
The virus is said to use pigeons as an intermediate host. It is thought that it is able to mutate within this host so that different strains emerge each year to cause infection. Hence a new vaccine is produced for each flu season.
Common symptoms are a sudden onset of high fever often associated with a feeling of chills, feeling very hot and dizzy with muscle aches especially in the limbs and back, a sore throat, dry cough, headache, feeling very drowsy, fatigued and dizzy. A common symptom is pain behind the eyes when you roll your eyes around – as the muscles which move your eyeballs can ache. It can also cause vomiting and diarrhoea, especially in children. A typical case can make you bedridden for 5 days and off work for 7, but severe cases can occur - there were over 650 deaths in NSW in 2017. Just read that again.
It is highly contagious by coughing, sneezing or touching an object eg a door handle, which is then touched by another person.
The Influenza vaccine is available and free for:
· children 6 mths to 5 years old
· Aboriginal people over 6 months of age
· People over 65 years of age (Pneumonia vaccine also free for this age group)
· People with chronic heart/lung/kidney/liver disease who are at increased risk of severe disease.
In addition, family members of these individuals and people in frequent contact with these higher-risk individuals, eg medical staff and childcare workers, are encouraged to get vaccinated.
The vaccine is a killed vaccine; it CANNOT give you “the flu”, but can cause a sore arm for a few days.
The immune system is an efficient multi-tasker, so it doesn’t get “overloaded” with antigens from multiple vaccinations and it doesn’t get vaccine fatigue; the effectiveness doesn’t wear off if you continue annual flu shots.
If you are under 65, fairly fit and active and not in regular contact with vulnerable people as listed above, it’s a personal choice as to whether to get an annual flu shot. On average, getting an annual flu shot will probably save you spending a week in bed 2-3 times every 10 years. It depends on your immunity to the virus and just plain luck!!
If you would like a flu shot, a general health check or to discuss any other health issue, you are welcome to make an appointment with me or my colleagues at Eternal Doctors at 91 Frenchmans Road, Randwick, phone: 7200 5522.
Dr Geoff Meers.