WINDHOEK – Cold and the flu are two different airborne viral respiratory disorders but closely resemble each other in symptoms, says Dr Ruben Kanime of the Khomas Medical Centre.
Flu (Influenza) is caused by influenza viruses and can affect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs, Kanime says.
“Signs and symptoms range from fever to sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, headache, muscle pain and feeling tired,” he adds. Incubation period goes up to four days and people with flu are mostly contagious three to four days from the onset of symptoms, said Kanime, who explained the flu vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seasonal flu epidemics account for three to five million severe cases and three to five thousand deaths each year. Flu can attack anyone at any age, however, there is a group of people that are at risk of contracting influenza, Kanime says.
These are pregnant women, older people, young children, individuals as well as those with chronic medical conditions. These conditions include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, especially among smokers, asthma, chronic heart disease, cancer and diabetes, adds Kanime. The fight against flu lies in prophylaxis, which is a treatment given to prevent diseases. In this case, a yearly flu shot is the first step, the doctor notes.
Kanime explained that protection against flu is obtained two to three weeks after vaccination. This means that patients are effectively protected two to three weeks after vaccination.
In Namibia, the flu vaccines are widely available at most of the large private medical practices and hospitals.
“State clinics should be offering this service too,” Kanime says. He adds that efficacy of the flu vaccine depends greatly on antigenically matches to strains that circulate seasonally in a particular geographical setting. An antigen is a substance that stimulates the production of an antibody when introduced into the body. Antigens include toxins, bacteria and viruses.
“Influenza viruses possess a very frequent rate of mutation (change), hence it is imperative for influenza vaccine preparations to undergo a yearly update,” said Kanime. Other factors that may affect the effectiveness of the flu vaccine include substrates (substances) used during manufacturing.
Factors such as age and underlying chronic medical conditions also determine the effectiveness of the flu shot, he said.
People may react to the flu vaccines, Kanime said. In such instances, symptoms may include headache, sweating, muscle and joint pain, fever, weakness and tiredness. Also, a patient may experience pain, swelling, redness and discoloration of skin at the injection site, Kanime explained.
“These reactions usually disappear within one or two days without treatment,” said Kanime.
Supplementing the flu shots are other measures, namely:
• Practise a healthy life style;
• Adhering to prescribed treatments for chronic conditions;
• Staying away from infected individuals – one needs to stay home when sick, more especially those who work in group offices;
• When one is infected, use over-the-counter cold and flu medications to relieve symptoms, get a lot of rest, adequate fluid intake, and keep warm;
• Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing;
• Wash your hands often;
• Seeking medical attention when symptoms are worsening is important. This may be due to a secondary bacterial infection or worsening of underlying chronic illness.
Remember that antibiotic-therapy has no place in the treatment of common colds and influenza, unless there is a diagnosed bacterial superinfection, stresses Kanime.