Colds and flu

Updated 09 October 2017

Vaccinate to prevent winter blues

The most effective strategy to combat serious complications brought on by influenza is through widespread timeous annual vaccination, especially in 'high risk' individuals.

Discovery Health data shows that in 2011 more than 29,000 Discovery Health members were admitted to hospital for influenza-related complications. The most effective strategy to combat serious complications brought on by influenza is through widespread timeous annual vaccination, especially in ‘high risk’ individuals.

“Severe illness or death related to by influenza occur in high-risk groups (elderly or chronically ill members). These annual epidemics are thought to result in between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world. Our data shows that in 2011 the flu vaccine reduced flu related hospital admissions among high risk members by around 12%. ” says Dr Jonathan Broomberg at Discovery Health.

Does not prevent but reduces severity

While the vaccine does not entirely prevent flu infection, it reduces the severity of illness and likelihood of complications.  Among healthy adults, the flu vaccine is quoted as preventing 70% to 90% of flu-related illnesses. Among the elderly, the vaccine can reduce severe illness and complications by up to 60% and deaths by 80%.

The flu vaccine is recommended in anyone with an increased risk of flu-related complications, those who live in an institution and healthcare workers.

The influenza ‘season’ typically starts in June, peaks in July and lasts around 10 weeks. According to the Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) Surveillance Programme, a sub-unit of the National Institute of Communicable diseases, in 2011, the influenza season started in early May (week 18) and peaked in June (week 24).

Every year a specific flu vaccine is released based on the most likely flu strains for that season. Vaccinations are recommended from mid-March onwards as their protective properties take about two weeks to fully develop.

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of flu complications

According to the South African Influenza Guidelines, chronic conditions such as asthma, bronchiolitis, cardiac failure, cardiomyopathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic renal failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, HIV and being over the age of 65 all increase the risk of influenza-related complications.

(Press release, Discovery, April 2012) 


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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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