Colds and flu

Updated 05 October 2017

Do I really need the flu shot?

Every year as the weather starts to cool and the days get shorter, we know that flu season is on its way. Fortunately, you can safeguard yourself with a simple vaccination.

The South African economy loses more than R2 billion every year, and the average person misses 4.5 days of school or work because of colds and flu.

Although the symptoms of colds and flu seem quite similar, they are actually quite different conditions.

The flu is a viral infection that causes respiratory tract infections, while a cold just causes a runny nose, nasal congestion and a sore throat.

Perhaps most characteristic of flu is the sudden onset of symptoms – in the morning you feel fine but by lunchtime you’re in bed feeling quite sick and running a fever. 

The differences between a cold and flu

flu, colds, symptoms, infographic

The World Health Organization estimates that flu causes between 250 000 and 500 000 deaths annually. 

Safeguard yourself and family from catching the flu by practicing good personal hygiene and getting a simple vaccination. 

Understanding the flu shot

Every year a new flu shot is formulated, as the flu virus mutates. “This is why we need a new vaccine every year,” explains Health24’s CyberDoc Heidi van Deventer. “We need to keep up with changing the flu vaccine.”

‘I had the flu shot but still got sick’

Sometimes it happens that you get the flu shot but still find yourself getting sick. “The virus that you have might not be the exact same version of the vaccine that you received,” explains Dr Van Deventer. “But it should give you some protection against becoming extremely ill.” 

Dr Van Deventer says the best time to schedule your flu shot is in April before the flu season starts. The vaccines are usually available towards the end of March. “You don’t need a prescription and can have it done at most pharmacies,” she adds. 

High-risk patients

If you fall into the category of pregnant women, the elderly, people who are seriously immune-compromised or children older than six months, then you should definitely schedule some time to get the flu vaccine.

“They are the more vulnerable groups in our population and their immune systems are not as strong as the rest of the population,” says Dr Van Deventer. “They are also prone to become severely ill when coming down with the flu and to develop serious complications such as pneumonia. I would also advise anyone working with children [teachers and daycare staff] and sick people [all health and admin personnel] to have the flu shot.”

Side effects

Although most people won’t experience any side effects, some do. You may experience mild flu symptoms (runny nose, slight fever, headache and nausea) but it should pass within a few days. The area where the flu shot was given might also become inflamed and painful. 

Read more:

SEE: Clean hands can prevent flu

Flu shot during pregnancy protects newborns for 8 weeks

'Alternative' parents more likely to skip kids' flu shot


Ask the Expert

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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