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What is seasonal influenza?

Seasonal influenza, also known as flu, is a virus that affects the respiratory system, mainly the nose and throat. Its symptoms can range from mild to severe.

A bad or heavy cold is often mistaken by sufferers as flu. Both are respiratory diseases and can share similar symptoms, however, they are caused by different viruses and flu symptoms are generally more severe.

What are the symptoms of flu?

The symptoms of flu include:

  • High fever
  • Body aches or pains
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry cough

The symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Is flu dangerous?

Most people with flu recover within a few days to 2 weeks of being infected. Others may develop serious health problems such as infections in the lung, ear, sinus or a worsening of chronic health problems. Flu can be a life-threatening for some. Young children, the elderly and people with chronic health problems are more likely to develop flu complications.

How is flu transmitted?

Flu is a very contagious disease. A person can be infected with flu by inhaling droplets made when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The flu virus can also be caught when a person touches a surface or object contaminated with the virus, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes.

How to protect against flu?

There are several steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting flu. These include:

  • Having the seasonal influenza vaccine, which protects against the common viruses that cause flu. The flu vaccine is updated yearly to include the main viruses causing flu each year.
  • Covering the mouth and/or nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Maintaining good levels of hand hygiene, by washing and drying hands properly after coughing or sneezing.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with flu germs.
  • When sick, limiting contact with other people as much as possible.

Understanding the flu vaccine

What is flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine contains a killed (inactive) virus that helps the body to produce antibodies that provide protection against the strains of virus in the vaccine. It typically takes around 2 weeks to develop immunity following the flu shot.

The flu vaccine is updated every year to protect against the 3 or 4 strains of virus that are expected to be most prevalent that year.

Who should be vaccinated?

Everyone starting from the age of 6 months. Certain people also have a higher risk of developing complications from flu and, as such, vaccination is of particular importance to them. These include:

  • Hajj and Umra pilgrims.
  • All healthcare workers.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Smokers.
  • All adults aged 65 years and older.
  • People under 65 years of age with high risk factors such as:
    • Those receiving treatments that weaken their immune system like radiation therapy and/or other cancer treatments.
    • Those with a damaged spleen or who have had their spleen removed.
    • Those with HIV or AIDS.
    • Those suffering from chronic alcoholism
    • Those with long-term health problems (chronic diseases) like:
      • Diabetes
      • Heart disease
      • Chronic lung disease (including asthma)
      • Chronic liver disease
      • Kidney disease

Anyone who is sick at the time of their scheduled vaccination, should discuss with their doctor whether to go ahead with the shot or postpone it until they recover.

Anyone with a severe egg allergy should be vaccinated under the supervision of their healthcare providers, who can recognize and manage any adverse reactions they may experience following immunization.

Who should not be vaccinated?

  • Babies below 6 months.
  • People with severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of the vaccine.
  • Those who experienced Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) less than 6 weeks after a previous dose of influenza vaccine.
  • Anyone who has a moderate or severe acute illness with or without fever.

Why should people get the flu vaccine?

Flu is highly contagious and effects a huge number of people each year. Its symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another, and range from mild or no symptoms to those that require hospitalization and, in the most extreme cases, flu-related complications can result in death.
A yearly flu vaccination not only reduces a person’s risk of getting flu, but also helps to minimize the overall spread of infection within the community.

When should people get vaccinated?

It is advisable to get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, ideally around September or October. However, the flu vaccine can still be beneficial even if you get it later in the season.

How many doses of flu vaccine are required?

Only 1 dose of flu vaccine is required each year, with the exception of children under the age of 9, who need 2 doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart, if they are taking the flu vaccine for the first time.

Why are babies under 6 months not vaccinated?

The flu vaccine is licensed to be given to people starting from the age of 6 months. However, for those under this age, protection can be provided by their mothers having the vaccine during pregnancy, as the antibodies can be passed from mother to baby. In addition, anyone coming into contact with a baby, such as family members or caregivers, should be vaccinated.

Where can I get flu vaccine?

The vaccine is given free of charge to all nationals and non-nationals in Abu Dhabi. It is currently available at healthcare centers under Abu Dhabi Health Services Company – SEHA.

Will the flu vaccine give me flu?

The vaccine contains an inactive virus, so you will not develop any of the strains of flu you are vaccinated against.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Flu vaccines have a good safety record. Hundreds of millions of people have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.

Before licensing any vaccine, it is tested extensively for many years. Once a vaccine is in use, the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DoH), along with other national and international authorities, are committed to assuring the safety of vaccine through strict monitoring systems.

Is it safe for pregnant women to get a flu shot?

Yes. Flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women over the years with a good safety record. There is a large body of scientific studies that supports the safety of the flu vaccine in pregnant women and their babies.
DoH, along with other national and international authorities, is committed to assuring the safety of vaccines in use through strict monitoring systems

Are there side effects to the vaccine?

Some minor and short-lived side effects may occur following a flu shot, including redness or pain in the injected area, low grade fever or achiness. Severe reactions to flu vaccines are rare.

Do flu vaccines contain thimerosal?

Flu vaccines in Abu Dhabi are single dose pre-filled syringes and do not contain a thimerosal. Thimerosal is more commonly used as a preservative in multi-dose vials for vaccines and other medical products and has a record of being very safe.

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