Colds and flu

Updated 20 April 2015

Call for free flu shots in SA

The government has been encouraged to make this year’s flu vaccine free of charge to all persons who are not medical aid members.

With winter fast approaching, flu vaccinations should be made available free to all persons who are not medical aid members such as the elderly, young children and pregnant woman.

This is the call being made by the leader of the Congress of the People (Cope) Mosiuoa Lekota.

Read: 15 tips to stay healthy in winter

South Africans must must be afforded maximum protection against all virulent strains of the flu, Lekota said in a statement.

"It is both strategically important from a health perspective and economically necessary to protect adults and children at risk of flu and its dangerous complications."

Who the focus should be on

The party suggested the government implement a model similar to the NHS in the UK who targets the most vulnerable such as:

- everyone over 65
- pregnant women
- school going children
- children aged six months to two years and
- others whom the medical profession recommends for inclusion in the programme

Read: Find out: is it a cold, sinusitis or flu?

"Government must also increase awareness that flu is spread rapidly by people with flu sneezing and coughing directly into the air in a confined space so as to prevent its spread."

Lekota said taking proactive steps will help reduce influenza and moderate its effects. "Action by government will also reduce complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis which can have devastating effects on patients."

Flu symptoms

Some of the symptoms of influenza are:  by a high fever with chills, dry cough, sore throat, blocked nose, sweating and shivering, muscle aches and pains and fatigue. It is usually more common among unvaccinated people.

Health24's resident doctor Dr Owen Wiese said that the flu vaccination can help avoid people from falling ill, however, vaccine effectiveness is also related to the health of those getting the jab.

He explained that flu spreads via droplets. "Being in close contact with someone who has a flu virus, makes it more likely that other people might be infected too."

Who should be vaccinated?

Anyone who does not have a contraindication and who wants to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with flu, should be vaccinated.

Read: 6 facts you should know about the flu

The immunisation recommendations of the National Advisory Group on Immunisation (NAGI) of South Africa for 2010 are in order of priority:

- Pregnant women, irrespective of stage of pregnancy
- Those older than six months with underlying medical conditions, predisposing them to flu complications. These conditions include chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, chronic neurological disease, chronic renal disease, mild to severe diabetes and related metabolic conditions and people on aspirin therapy.
- Frontline healthcare and emergency medical service personnel who come into direct contact with patients
- HIV-infected adults with a CD4 count above 100 and all HIV-infected children, six months to five years of age
- Caregivers of infants younger than six months in day-care centres
- Everyone older than 65
- Children between six months and five years old
- People between five and 24 years old who live in hostels, boarding schools and similar institutional settings.

Dr Wiese said people who are sick should cover their nose when sneezing or mouth when coughing and practice good personal hygiene. He said people who are not sick should also wash their hands and carry sanitiser with them to sterilise their hands and any surfaces.

Also read:

Flu vaccine missing its mark

Antibiotics vs self medication: which is best to treat a flu?

Does the flu vaccine cause Guillain-Barré syndrome or not?

Image: Flu risk 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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