As winter approaches, there are lots of nasty bugs around so it’s time to start thinking about getting your influenza vaccination.
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a serious illness that can sometimes lead to serious complications and even death.
Flu is caused by three types of influenza viruses A, B and C, which affect the respiratory system (lungs and airways).
Symptoms can include: fever, body aches, sore throat, cough and lack of energy. That’s why getting a flu vaccination is so important – especially if you are elderly, pregnant or have an existing medical condition, like asthma or diabetes. However, the flu can strike down healthy people, too.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu.
The flu can be costly to you and your family and the country as a whole – it can result in a stay in hospital, visits to the GP or keep you in bed for a week or more, meaning lost days at work.
Top tips for helping fight the flu:
1. Get vaccinated
More than a million New Zealanders have their flu vaccination each year. Vaccination is important if:
- You are at risk of complications from catching the flu, eg, you are elderly, pregnant or have an existing medical condition.
- You are in close contact with vulnerable groups, eg, people working in hospitals or crèches.
The flu vaccination is available to people from six months of age, and is fully funded for people who may be at risk of complications from catching the flu.
The vaccination is available from March onwards and it will take up to two weeks for you to be protected.
2. Wash your hands regularly
Wash, wash and wash again. The flu is spread by sneezing, coughing, coming into direct contact with an infected person or by touching a contaminated surface, such as a doorknob. Washing your hands can reduce the chance of catching, or spreading, the flu.
3. Keep your distance from infected people if you are healthy, and from well people if you are sick
If somebody you know has the flu, stay away. If you have the flu, stay home until you are better. You don’t want to spread it around to friends, family or work colleagues.
4. Stay healthy
It’s important to stay healthy and keep your immune system in top shape. That means eating healthy food, drinking lots of water and getting plenty of exercise and rest.
5. Cover your nose and mouth
It’s really important to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, then throw the tissue in the rubbish. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how germs are spread.
An unexpected benefit of having a flu shot
Over the past few years, studies have shown that there may be a link between getting the flu shot and a decrease in the incidence of heart events.
One of those studies, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2013) found that getting the influenza vaccination lowers a person’s risk of having a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other major cardiac event – including death – by about a third over the following year.
The researchers suggest this is because when you get the flu, your immune response causes a lot of inflammation, which can lead to a possible heart attack or stroke. Also, changes in the lungs can lower blood oxygen levels, which makes the heart work harder. Heart muscle cells can also be directly injured, leading to heart failure.
Flu shot linked to lower heart attack & stroke risk Harvard Medical School, US, 2013
Influenza (flu) topics Health Navigator NZ