Every winter, the flu season affects millions of people in Europe, and for fragile people it can lead to serious complications. These are mainly types of pneumonia, which are more frequent among old people and among children and adults suffering from chronic illnesses. During periods of flu, the number of hospital admissions for pneumonia and the number of deaths caused by pneumonia increase considerably.
Influenza is a viral infection which mainly affects the nose, throat, bronchial passages and possibly also the lungs. The infection lasts for about a week, marked by the sudden appearance of a high temperature, muscle pain, headache, poor general condition, a dry cough, an irritated throat and a runny nose.
Flu and the common cold are viral infections of the respiratory tract; they are often confused, because they have similar symptoms. The cold is nevertheless more frequent and more commonplace than flu.
The influenza virus is readily transmitted from one person to another by micro-droplets and particles secreted by infected people when they cough or sneeze. Flu tends to spread rapidly during seasonal epidemics.
Most people who catch flu recover after one or two weeks with no medical treatment. But for the very young, the elderly, and people suffering from chronic pathologies, flu can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and even prove fatal.
Observing the conventional rules of hygiene is then essential, particularly during the colder months: wash your hands frequently, using soap; cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm; use paper tissues and throw them away once they have been used; avoid contact with people who are ill; air rooms regularly.
Say no to flu and yes to vaccination!
The Health Directorate (Direction de la Santé) recommends that people over the age of 65 and everyone at risk should protect themselves against seasonal flu by being vaccinated. People at risk are mainly those suffering from chronic illnesses of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, diabetes, kidney problems, and diminished immunity. These people should consult their general practitioner without delay to arrange for vaccination.
The Health Directorate also appeals to doctors and and healthcare workers - and indeed to everyone in direct contact with vulnerable people - to act responsibly. It is in fact essential for health professionals to be vaccinated against flu in order to protect people at risk - the elderly, the chronically ill, and children.
Flu vaccine: an effective means of prevention, to be repeated each year
The most effective way to protect yourself from flu and its complications is to get vaccinated.
There are safe, effective vaccines: they are renewed each year, because the flu virus mutates regularly.
Depending on the composition of the predominant virus strains circulating, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decides each year on the recommended composition of the flu vaccine. For the 2015/2016 season, the recommended composition for a trivalent vaccine is:
- Influenza A (H1N1); A/California/7/2009 pdm 09-like virus
- Influenza A (H3N2); A/Switzerland 9715293/2013-like virus
- Influenza B/Yamagata/16/88 : B/Phuket/3079/2013-like virus
In a quadrivalent vaccine, the Influenza B/Victoria/2/87: Brisbane/60/2008-like virus strain is added.
The best time to be vaccinated is October/November. Just two weeks after vaccination, the immune system is ready to stand up to the flu virus. The immunity lasts for at least six months.
The vaccination consists of a single injection, but it has to be repeated each year because the flu virus constantly goes through seasonal variations. The 2015/2016 flu vaccines are available from dispensing chemists on prescription; for people at risk and people over the age of 65, the cost is covered by the National Health Fund. Although the vaccine doesn't always make it possible to avoid the illness, it does reduce the risk of serious complications and death.
The flu vaccine is generally well tolerated, and only occasionally produces secondary effects, ranging from a slight fever to a temporary feeling of being generally unwell, and pain at the site of the injection. People who are allergic to egg protein must tell their doctor, who will decide on whether to vaccinate or not, and on what precautions need to be taken. The vaccine is in fact based on inactivated viruses that are cultured on hen's eggs, and may contain traces of egg protein.
To improve the vaccine cover of people at risk and healthcare professionals in contact with very fragile people, everyone needs to be mobilised.
Let's prevent avoidable deaths - let's adopt the vaccinations reflex!
(Source: communiqué from the Ministry of Health)