Colds and flu

Updated 27 May 2014

Swine flu is coming – time to get your shot!

The WHO has warned that the swine flu is making its way south as the temperature drops. And it's a particularly virulent strain. Everyone should get vaccinated.

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As winter approaches the southern hemisphere, we all start thinking and worrying about getting the flu. But how do we know what strains will come a-knocking, and is it necessary to protect yourself with a flu shot every year?

Yes, says the World Health Organisation. They typically look at what flu strains are affecting people in North America and Europe, and then warn the south about what's to come.

Flu viruses thrive in cold climates, so as the weather changes, they 'move' from the warming area to the cooler one as their infected hosts (that's us) move around the globe. 

This year was a particularly bad year for the Northern Hemisphere where the dreaded and highly contagious swine flu once again reared its ugly head. 

Normally, flu shots are only strongly recommended for the vulnerable – the elderly, infirm and young children – but this year we're all at risk. 

Especially severe in California

According to Amelia de Milander of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association, they are expecting more young and middle-aged adults to fall victim to this particular strain of swine flu that is heading our way.

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control in the US) says the 2014 outbreak has been especially severe in California where 243 people, all under 65 years old, died from swine flu this year alone. 

To put it into perspective, a research team at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services discovered that an estimated 62% to 85% of those who died in the 2009 pandemic were younger than 65.

See the current status of flu around the globe with Google Flu Trends Map.

In addition to deaths caused by respiratory diseases, the H1N1 virus can also kill by exacerbating existing health problems.

And in fact, when the H1N1 deaths due to cardiovascular disease and other causes are included, the 2009 pandemic toll might be as high as 400 000.

That high death toll for younger people is in marked contrast to that caused by seasonal influenza, which mostly targets seniors.

The problem is that flu strains change every year and, as they change, big pharma co-operates with the WHO to develop vaccines. That's why last year's flu shot will not protect you this year.

Read: Tamiflu may cut flu death risk by 25 percent


What does a flu shot cost?

More and more medical aid companies are paying for flu shots (some even reward you for getting it), but if you don't have medical aid, depending on where you go for your shot, it will cost you between R50 and R80 at your local pharmacy, which is a small price to pay for your health. Visit greendoorpharmacies.co.za to find a pharmacy closest to you for that important flu shot.

Read more

Read absolutely everything you need to know about the dreaded swine flu

'I had swine flu' – a user gave us a first hand account of living through swine flu in 2009

How flu viruses change


Image: swine flu from Shutterstock
 

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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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