Seasonal influenza, also known as flu, is caused by influenza viruses. It affects the respiratory system mainly the nose and throat. The effect of seasonal influenza can vary from mild to severe symptoms.
Is it a cold or flu?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a bad cold and flu. Both are respiratory illnesses but are caused by different types of viruses. The symptoms are almost the same but are more severe in flu. Most common symptoms in flu are high fever, body pains, extreme tiredness and dry cough. Whereas symptoms in common cold are headache, and runny or stuffy nose.
How dangerous is flu?
Most people affected with flu recover within few days to 2 weeks of being infected. Others may develop serious health problems such as infections in the lungs, ear, sinus and worsening of chronic health problems. Flu can be life-threatening for some; younger children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health problems or weak immunity are more likely to develop flu complications.
How does flu spread?
Flu is a very contagious disease. A person may be infected with the flu by inhaling droplets from an infected person when coughing, sneezing, or talking. The flu virus can also be caught from touching a surface or an object contaminated with the virus, and then touching mouth, nose or eyes.
How to prevent flu?
- Yearly vaccination is the best way for prevention. The seasonal influenza vaccine protects against common viruses that cause flu. The flu vaccine is being updated yearly to include the main viruses causing flu each year.
- Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to reduce the spread of flu viruses.
- Regular hand washing with water and soap, and sanitation help in reducing the chances of becoming infected.
- Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects.
Limit contact with others as much as possible while sick to avoid infecting them.
How do flu vaccines work?
The vaccine contains inactivated parts of influenza viruses that help the body to develop immunity about two weeks after vaccination. The body produces antibodies that give protection against the viruses that are in the vaccine.
The flu vaccine is being updated on yearly basis to protect against the main viruses causing flu each year.
Who should be vaccinated?
Everyone starting from the age of 6 months.
Vaccination is particularly important for the following groups as they are at higher risk of getting influenza complications and transmitting the disease: All healthcare workers
- Children below 5 years
- Pregnant women
- Hajj and Umra pilgrims
- People aged 65 years and above
People with high risk conditions such as:
- Taking treatments that weaken their immune system like radiation therapy and other treatment for cancer
- Having damaged spleen or removed spleen
- HIV infection or AIDS
- Chronic alcoholism
- Having long-term health problems (chronic disease)
- Heart disease
Chronic lung disease (including Asthma)
- Chronic liver disease
- Kidney disease
Why should people get the flu vaccine?
Every flu season is different, and many people are getting flu every year. Influenza symptoms vary between people, some have mild symptoms, some may need to be hospitalized, and some can even die from flu-related complications. Those who get flu, whether with symptoms or without, can spread the disease to others.
Yearly flu vaccination is essential to reduce the risk of getting flu and spread the infection to others. When many people are vaccinated, flu infection is less likely to spread in the community.
Can the flu vaccine give me flu infection?
- The flu vaccine will not cause flu because the vaccine contains noninfectious particles of the virus, which merely alert the body to the threat of the virus.
- Few people might develop flu-like symptoms, such as mild fever and muscle aches after vaccination. These are considered as minor side effects and are not same as influenza infection.
- Immunity against influenza does not develop until 1 – 2 weeks after vaccination. Some people may be exposed to influenza viruses before getting the benefit from the vaccine.
- Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the differences between flu and common cold. Both are respiratory illnesses, and may have similar symptoms but both are caused by different types of viruses. Influenza vaccine only protects against certain influenza viruses.
When should I get vaccinated?
You should get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available. It is highly recommended to take the flu vaccine before winter, by September – October.
If you haven’t got the vaccine this season, you should get it now. You can still get the benefit of the flu vaccine, even if you were vaccinated later in the season. The flu vaccine gives protection throughout the current flu season.
How many doses of the flu vaccine are required?
People need to take 1 dose of flu vaccine every year. However, children below 9 years need to take 2 doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart, if they are taking the flu vaccine for the first time.
Why do people need to get flu vaccines every year?
Every year, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Global Influenza Surveillance Network identify the flu viruses circulating in the upcoming season that may lead to severe complications. Flu viruses are able to mutate and evolve very quickly, so the vaccine which was taken in the previous season may not give protection from the viruses circulating in the next season. In addition, the immunity level against influenza viruses starts to decline over time.
How long should people wait before getting vaccinated with the flu vaccine for the following season?
The minimum interval between 2 doses of the flu vaccine is 4 weeks. Therefore, it is important to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, regardless of when you have received the vaccine the previous season.
Why babies below 6 months cannot get the flu vaccine? How can they be protected?
The flu vaccine is licensed to be given to everyone starting from 6 months. The best way to protect those younger than 6 months is by mothers taking the flu vaccine during pregnancy, so antibodies can pass from the mother to her baby. Added to that, making sure that other people around the baby are also vaccinated, including family members, relatives, and caregivers.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
The vaccine is given free of charge to all nationals and non-nationals of Abu Dhabi Emirate at healthcare centers under Abu Dhabi Health Services Company – SEHA, Mubadala Healthcare, and some private healthcare facilities.
Who should not be vaccinated?
- Babies below 6 months.
- People with a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of the vaccine.
- People who had Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) less than 6 weeks after a previous dose of influenza vaccine.
- Moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever.
Are flu vaccines safe?
Flu vaccines have a good safety record. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.
The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others.
Vaccines are safe and effective. Before licensing any vaccine, it is tested extensively for many years. Once a vaccine is in use, the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, along with other national and international authorities, are committed to assuring the safety of vaccines through strict monitoring systems.
What are the side effects of flu vaccine?
The vaccine is like any other medicine and could cause some side-effects. The risk of severe reaction is very rare. Some minor side effects may occur following a flu vaccination, including redness or pain in the injected area, low-grade fever, and aches.
These are mild and short-lasting side effects, especially when compared to the symptoms of severe influenza infection.
Is it safe for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine?
Yes. Flu vaccines have been given to pregnant women over many years with a good safety record. There is a large body of scientific studies that supports the safety of flu vaccines in pregnant women and their babies.
Seasonal influenza vaccine is highly recommended to be given to all pregnant women. Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing complications when being infected with influenza. Pregnant women with flu are more likely to be admitted to hospitals. Influenza during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, lower birth weight, and sometimes stillbirth. Getting an influenza vaccine during pregnancy will continue to give protection to the infants for up to six months after birth (when infants are not eligible for flu vaccination).
The flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy.
Do flu vaccines contain thimerosal?
The available flu vaccines in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are single-dose pre-filled syringes and do not contain thimerosal. Thimerosal use in vaccines and other medical products as a preservative in multi-dose vials has a record of being very safe.
Can I get vaccinated if I am sick?
If you are sick at the time you are scheduled to be vaccinated, talk to the doctor about whether you can go ahead or if you will need to reschedule the appointment until you recover.
Can I get the flu vaccine if I am allergic to eggs?
People with a severe allergic reactions to eggs can be vaccinated. Talk to the doctor if you have a severe allergy to eggs.
What are the differences between the flu and COVID-19?
Flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses but are caused by different types of viruses. It may be difficult to tell the difference between them as symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar. Symptoms vary from asymptomatic or mild through to severe symptoms and complications that can lead to death. Laboratory testing is required to confirm a diagnosis.
The mode of transmission is similar for both viruses, they are transmitted from a person to person through droplets made by infected persons when coughing sneezing, or talking. It may also be possible that a person can get infected by touching a surface or object that has a virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Therefore, precautionary measures are the same to prevent infection.
The vaccine is available to protect against influenza, and it is highly recommended to get vaccinated each year. However, there is currently no licensed vaccine to protect against COVID 19, although there is a number of vaccines that are currently tested in clinical trials to ensure effectiveness and safety.
Will there be flu along with COVID-19 in the fall and winter?
It is difficult to say with certainty what will happen in the upcoming fall and winter. It is expected that both flu and COVID-19 viruses will be both spreading. Therefore, getting the flu vaccine will be more important this season than ever.
Can I have flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
Yes, it is possible to have flu as well as other respiratory illness like COVID-19 at the same time. Symptoms are similar making it hard to tell the difference without laboratory testing.
Is it safe to leave home to get a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, it is safe to leave your home to get vaccinated as long as you have not been instructed to quarantine.
It is important to maintain physical distancing measures as much as possible and ensure hand hygiene at all times.
All healthcare facilities providing the vaccination service are instructed to follow precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Will the flu vaccine protect against COVID-19?
The flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19 but does reduce the risk of seasonal influenza, which may lead to hospitalization, complications, and death.
Why it is important to get the flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Being protected from flu, help to protect the community from outbreaks, avoid unnecessary medical visits, and hospitalization. Influenza vaccination is essential this season to reduce the resulting burdens on the healthcare system that are already strained by the COVID-19 response.
In addition, currently, there is not enough information about the effect on patients of having co-infection with both flu and COVID-19, or whether influenza can lead to severe complications in patients already infected with COVID-19. Therefore, flu vaccination is important to reduce co-infection.