Abu Dhabi: UAE doctors have renewed their call to residents to get vaccinated against the flu as this year’s flu season is resulting in more severe cases of the disease across the globe.
Flu shots, which are easily accessible at clinics and hospitals across the UAE, are the best way to protect oneself from the flu, which can prove dangerous for vulnerable members of the community.
Dr Mourad Kirollos, staff physician for primary care and family medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said there is also a need – in light of the threats to respiratory health – to bust myths and misconceptions around the flu vaccine.
“Our immune systems have been through a bit of a roller-coaster in the last two year. Flu can seem like an unimportant illness to many. However, it can quickly escalate to a life-threatening situation if not addressed in time. This annual epidemic affects between three to five million people globally,” Dr Kirollos said.
“While people may question whether the flu vaccine is effective in any way, it is important to understand that the most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination,” he added.
Because flu virus strains change rapidly, the flu shot must be taken every year in order to provide optimal protection, including from complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and sinus infections.
The UAE launched its annual flu vaccination campaign in September, days after the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC) released data indicating that the emirate’s flu infection rate had reverted, as expected, to higher levels typical before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Flu is a very contagious disease. A person may be infected with the flu by inhaling droplets from an infected person when coughing, sneezing, or talking. The flu virus can also be caught by touching a surface or an object contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes,” the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC} said as part of its public campaign to encourage flu vaccinations.
This year, the flu shot is a quadrilent vaccine, meaning that it protects against four different flu viruses, including influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses. Adults receive one shot only, whereas young children who have never been vaccinated against the flu before are given two shots.
Busting the influenza myths
Dr Kirollos countered some of the common misconceptions about the influenza virus.
Myth: Flu vaccines do not help against influenza infection.
Fact: Influenza vaccines offer approximately 70 to 90 per cent protection against clinical disease in healthy adults. Among elderly people, vaccination may reduce the number of hospitalisations by 25 to 39 per cent, and has also been shown to reduce overall mortality by 39 to 75 per cent during the influenza seasons.
Myth: Influenza is just a common cold and does not require any attention.
Fact: As many as 650,000 people a year can die of the flu. While it can have a severe impact on people with compromised immune systems, even healthy individuals are susceptible. Usually, recovery takes just a few weeks, however, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia, heart or brain inflammation, or sinus infection.
Myth: If I wear a mask, I cannot get the flu.
Fact: The use of face masks and regular sanitisation are measures that just add an additional safety barrier. While it is important to keep following these measures, as they can afford some safety to you from infection, it is still possible to get the flu, as they are not preventatives.
Myth: I have taken the COVID-19 vaccine, which will protect me against the flu.
Fact: Although both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses, taking the coronavirus vaccine does not offer protection against the flu because influenza strains are totally different from COVID-19 strains.
Myth: It is not safe for pregnant women and children to get the flu shot.
Fact: It is advisable for everyone over three years of age to get a flu shot. In fact, this is rather important to protect high-risk groups, including adults aged 50 years and above, children under five years, pregnant women, smokers and people with comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension.
Myth: I have another disease like diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease, so I am not supposed to take the flu shot.
Fact: Research studies have proved that it is crucial for those who have a chronic disease to be protected from flu by taking the influenza vaccine. This is because having a chronic disease can exacerbate a flu infection.
Myth: I have an egg allergy, so I cannot take the flu vaccine.
Fact: Based on advice from United States’ health sector regulator, the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, people who have an egg allergy are no longer exempted from taking the flu vaccine. Unless they have a history of severe allergy with a history of hospital admission, people with an egg allergy can still get the vaccine, with hospitalised patients receiving inpatient access to the vaccine.
At risk groups
The Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has also released a list of risk factors that can leave individuals most at risk of developing flu-related complications. These groups will therefore benefit the most from getting vaccinated:
Adults aged 50 years and above
Children under five years old
School-aged children between 5 and 18 years of age
Close contacts of influenza positive cases
Hajj and Umrah pilgrims
People with health conditions, including diabetes, chronic cardiovascular disease (excluding hypertension), chronic lung disease (including asthma), chronic alcoholism, asplenia (including elective splenectomy and persistent complement component deficiencies), chronic liver disease. kidney failure, end stage renal disease, and recipients of haemodialysis, those with extreme obesity (BMI of 40 or more)