Flu vaccine
Doctors in the UAE are reminding residents to take the flu shot now to get protected against the seasonal virus before the onset of winter. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dubai: Doctors in the UAE are reminding residents to take the flu shot now to get protected against the seasonal virus before the onset of winter.

“Producing antibodies against influenza, a viral infection that attacks one’s respiratory system [nose, throat and lungs], will take around two weeks to develop. Getting a flu vaccine will not protect us 100 per cent from the virus, but it is the best way to prevent flu and avoid its complications,” Dr Zrinka Zderic Savatovic, general practitioner at HealthBay Polyclinic Dubai, told Gulf News.

Dr Zrinka Zderic Savatovic

She noted the best time to take flu vaccine is October. “It is this time of the year to get your best shot to avoid flu,” said Dr Savatovic, adding: “Influenza is a respiratory infection that is a potentially serious disease and can cause complications, particularly in young children, older adults and people with certain medical conditions leading to hospitalisation and sometimes even death.”

Six months and above

Dr Savatovic continued: “Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October those six months and older should get an influenza vaccine every season with rare exception. Babies younger than six months and people with severe allergic reactions to previous flu vaccine should not be vaccinated.”

Dr Brijesh Bhardwaj, specialist and head of department - Internal Medicine at NMC Royal DIP, Dubai, also said: “Influenza vaccination is recommended for all people above six months of age and older, health care workers, young children with asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart disease, people with diabetes, patients with weak immunity, pregnant female.”

Dr Brijesh Bhardwaj

“Vaccines for the 2022-2023 season are quadrivalent vaccines, meaning they are against four different flu viruses, including influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses,” he added.

Both doctors also advised that people with egg allergies and those who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralysing illness) should talk to their doctor regarding flu vaccine recommendations for them.

Side effects

According to doctors, “common side effects from a flu shot include soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot was given, headache (low grade), fever, nausea, muscle ache and fatigue. The flu shot, like other injections, can occasionally cause fainting. “Life-threatening allergic reactions to flu shots are very rare. Signs of serious allergic reaction can include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after receiving the shot. This is why it is recommended to stay in the clinic for some time after the jab.”

Lowering the risks

Dr Nuran Nergiz, specialist family medicine at Canadian Specialist Hospital Dubai, noted anyone can get sick with flu – even healthy people. Serious complications related to flu can happen to anyone, at any age. But some people (65 years and older, those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease) are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick.

She reiterated: “Seasonal flu vaccines are meant to protect against influenza that will be most common in the upcoming season. Everyone older than six months old is recommended to have one. Even though the vaccine is suggested to be given around September and October. It is possible to have it done until December or end of March.”

“The jab does not only protect us from flu for six to eight months, but it also prevents people at risk from getting seriously ill from flu. In healthy adults the vaccine provides protective antigen rate in 80 per cent of the patients. Even though the rate is somewhat lower in elderly people, it is known that the vaccine reduces the complications and mortality of the flu,” Dr Nergiz underlined.

Flu vs COVID-19

The three doctors also noted that it is “especially important to get the flu vaccine this season because the flu and COVID-19 cause similar symptoms. Flu vaccination could reduce symptoms that might be confused with those caused by COVID-19.”

Influenza or flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus first identified in 2019 while flu is caused by infection with a flu virus.

Flu vaccine is given to arm muscles or thighs for babies. Children who are getting a flu vaccine for the first time will need two doses at least four weeks apart, while children over nine years old are recommended to take one dose of a flu vaccine.

The doctors reiterated: “Preventing flu and reducing the severity of flu illness and hospitalisations could also decrease the number of people needing to stay in the hospital. So, roll up your sleeves and get the flu jab now.”

Flu symptoms

Fever or malaise with chills and shivering, nasal congestion to runny nose.

Sore throat, cough, myalgia (muscle aches and pain), headache, tiredness, fatigue and weakness.

Some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults. It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Flu complications

Most patients with flu recover in a maximum of two weeks, but some patients develop complications-like sinusitis, ear infection, pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, inflammation of heart muscles, brain, and muscles.

Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either flu virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria.

People with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.