Contagious influenza can turn deadly if not treated early and effectively.
INFLUENZA or “flu” affects approximately 5–10 per cent of all adults and 20–30 per cent of children every year across the world.
Vaccination is considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the most effective ways to prevent the disease.
Coughs and sneezes by individuals with influenza are just a few ways in which we may fall victim to its effects.
Flu is a contagious respiratory tract infection caused by influenza viruses of the Orthomyxoviridae family and can be divided into three strains: influenza A, B and C4.
In Malaysia, flu is generally seen all year-round, with influenza A usually detected more frequently than influenza B, although year-to-year variations may be considerable.
Flu can be a severe condition, particularly if we fall into one of the more vulnerable patient profiles, says Professor Dr Yasmin Malik, visiting senior clinical consultant at University Malaya Medical Centre.
“Even if they are not hospitalised, an influenza-infected person can subsequently develop serious complications such as a heart attack or stroke. With the availability of flu vaccines, this risk can be reduced.”
Vaccination is widely acknowledged to provide protection for adults and children from suffering at the hand of multiple influenza strains, helping to reduce the spread of the disease and the risk of complications.
The WHO recommends the use of flu vaccines as one of the most effective ways to prevent the disease.
The flu virus manifests as symptoms throughout the entire body, infecting the nose, throat, and lungs.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of the following tell-tale symptoms: having a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
One bout of flu can last between one to two weeks, with severe symptoms often subsiding in two to three days.
The virus has the potential to spread amongst family members – an adult infected with the virus may be contagious from one day before symptoms start to 5–7 days after becoming sick, whilst children may continue to transmit the virus for up to seven days upon contracting the infection.
Despite its familiar presence, the severity of flu should not be underestimated; symptoms may range between mild illness to very serious complications such as inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), encephalitis, or multi-organ failure, which can be life-threatening.
Flu can affect anyone, but certain age groups are more vulnerable to contracting the virus and developing associated complications.
These include adults over 65 years old, individuals with chronic lung, heart, liver, kidney, neurological, blood disorders, metabolic or endocrine diseases like diabetes mellitus, individuals with weakened immune systems due to medical conditions such as HIV or cancer, pregnant women, children younger than 5 years old, healthcare workers and those who travel to countries during their influenza season.
In 2016, figures indicated that up to 500,000 people may die annually as a result of influenza.
There were about 28,000–111,500 deaths in children under five years of age from influenza-associated illness in 2008.
Absenteeism is also a common and cumbersome result of the disruption caused by the flu. Studies have shown that infected school children miss classes due to influenza.
On average, individuals suffering from the flu have been shown to miss 2.8 days of work, illustrating its considerable burden both on society and the individual in terms of limiting the workforce and lost productivity
GLAXOSMITHKLINE Pharmaceutical Sdn Bhd has introduced Fluarix Tetra, an inactivated quadrivalent vaccine aimed to help curb the burden of flu and protect families across Malaysia.
Unlike trivalent inactivated vaccines (TIVs), which contain two influenza A strains and one influenza B strain, Fluarix Tetra includes two A and two B strains, offering direct and broad protection against the four strains that account for almost all seasonal influenza cases globally.
Many of us have suffered from the debilitating effects of flu, either directly or through our loved ones, says Dr Rupert Jakes, medical affairs director, vaccines, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical, Malaysia.
“As a committed leader in disease prevention and vaccine innovation, GSK is proud to introduce Fluarix Tetra, an inactivated quadrivalent flu vaccine approved for active immunisation to protect adults and children alike from the risks of influenza.”
Influenza viruses are constantly changing, which is why it is possible to catch the flu more than once.
Yearly vaccination, especially around flu season, is one way to protect yourself, your family and friends who may be more vulnerable to the virus, adds Dr Jakes.