Windhoek-Winter is here and it is during this time of the year that many people catch flu. Doctor Takura Razemba of Khomas Medical Centre explained that – contrary to popular belief – flu is not caused by cold weather.
“It is caused by a virus, which is spread from person to person. Because it is caused by a virus, it can be immunised against, but this also means it cannot be treated by antibiotics,” said Razemba.
He further explained that in winter people tend to stay closer together in closed areas to try to avoid the cold. “This close proximity increases the easier spread of the flu,” he says.
“Also, only a small amount of flu is transmitted via droplet infection. Most is via direct contact with secretions on the hands of people with flu. That’s why hand hygiene is very important during winter,” Razemba said.
He advised that hand sanitisers are especially useful during this period and should be used regularly. “If you have a flu, rather use tissue instead of handkerchiefs and discard immediately. That way you don’t have to walk around with a handkerchief full of the flu virus.”
He said it is also important for people to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing and to sanitise their hands straight after that.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different viruses.
Because the two types of illness have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, according to the CDCP website.
“In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations. Flu can have very serious associated complications,” CDCP says.
Typically, flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection by the viruses that are in the vaccine.
Razemba, however, explained that it is not a must to get a flu shot, although “everyone will benefit from it,” he suggested. Also, it is highly recommended in certain groups, like children, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals.
Further, people at risk of exposure, such as nurses, doctors and people who look after other sick people are advised to take the flu shot, Razemba explained.
“There is this concept of herd immunity, where if enough people are immune to the flu, the rest of the population is protected indirectly by those who are immune,” said the doctor. He also noted that a flu shot may not completely prevent a person from getting flu.
“This is a common misconception. However, a person who is vaccinated is less likely to get the flu than one who isn’t and if he or she does get the flu they tend to recover quicker, as their immune system would have already produced antibodies,” Razemba explained.
Asked on the disadvantages of having a flu shot, Razemba said: “I am not aware of any disadvantages of getting the flu shot at the moment. However, people with allergies to eggs, or gentamicin (an antibiotic) should probably avoid taking the vaccines, as these along with other ingredients may be present in small quantities in the vaccine.”