Most of us think nothing of the occasional flu, but getting a vaccine can save you and your loved ones multiple sick days every year.
First off, let’s set the facts straight: a cold is not the same as the 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 like 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 haven’t done so, it’s high time to start getting your twice-yearly jab, and women especially have reason to getting a flu vaccine. We got Dr Leong Hoe Nam, infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital to break it down for us.
We need it more in tropical weather
Unlike in temperate countries where spikes in flu cases happen during the colder half of the year, we get two flu seasons here in Singapore – April to June and toward 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 for longer, explains 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.
“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 don’t get vaccinated, you are vulnerable to attacks from influenza viruses,” says Dr Leong.
(Also read: PSA: You Don’t Need Antibiotics If You Have The Flu)
It’s 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, says Dr Leong.
Women get added relief
Scientists at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently found that women are more likely to suffer a higher level of lung inflammation and slower recovery from the flu – this also means you may be at higher risk of hospitalisation. This is because as compared to men, our 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. This makes a huge difference to your productivity and happiness levels.
It doesn’t take much effort to get your jab
All you need to do is stroll to your nearest GP clinic every half a year. “A recent study conducted by Tan Tock Seng Hospital found that 80.4% 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,” says Dr Leong.
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.
(Also read: How to Avoid the Flu)