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DOHA: With a rise in the number of seasonal influenza cases during winter, those vulnerable to the infection have been advised to visit the primary health centres and get vaccinated.
The influenza vaccine is available at the primary health centres, outpatient clinics of Hamad Medical Corporation and the vaccination unit at the Mesaimeer health centre.
“We are strongly advising high-risk categories such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic diseases to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Dr Abdullatif Al Khal (pictured), head of the Infectious Diseases Department at HMC, told The Peninsula yesterday.
It is better to get the vaccine during the cold months, which are usually over by April or May, because the influenza virus is more active during winter, he added.
“Fortunately, we have seen few influenza cases at outpatient clinics this winter, because more people are now seeking treatment at primary health centres, the emergency departments and other facilities. Having less visitors at HMC clinics does not mean that the cases have declined,” said Al Khal.
People who got the vaccine last winter will require fresh vaccination because the influenza virus may have undergone slight changes and the immunity weakens with passage of time.
“Getting infected with one influenza virus does not give protection for next year or protection against other influenza types. This means people who got vaccinated last year will still need to get the new vaccine this year. Also, there are three types of influenza that one can get sick from, and the current vaccine will protect against all of these types,” said Al Khal, in a separate statement issued by HMC yesterday.
“We have requested physicians to give the influenza vaccine to certain categories of patients who are at higher risk, such as elderly people, children, people with chronic diseases such as heart disease or lung disease (e.g. asthma), and pregnant women,” he said.
“It is safe for pregnant women and children six months and onwards to be vaccinated. It is also very important for them to be vaccinated, because they can become fatally ill from influenza if they do not get the vaccine. Children below five years old, especially, can get very sick because they have small airways.”
Individuals not in these high-risk groups can also ask for the vaccine from their primary health centres. Those with severe allergies, however, should not get vaccinated, and those who have fever should delay getting the vaccine until they are better.
Those who are travelling during winter are advised to get vaccinated at least two weeks — preferably a month — before they travel, especially if they are travelling to countries with known endemic diseases such as meningitis and malaria.
He added that HMC had conducted a two-week-long campaign to vaccinate all its clinical and support staff.
Influenza, commonly known as the “flu”, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. The influenza virus spreads from person to person through the inhalation of respiratory droplets from someone who is infected. To avoid transmitting the virus, those who have influenza are advised to avoid contact with other people, cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, and maintain proper hygiene such as washing their hands very well and often. Those who are exposed to people with influenza should also follow hygienic practices.
Influenza can be distinguished from other viral illnesses like the common cold in that influenza is usually accompanied by fever, shaking, chills and body ache. It is also associated with coughing that may come a few days into the illness, and sometimes a running nose, sore throat, nausea and vomiting. Common cold is not usually accompanied by fever and is not serious, unlike influenza.
People who get influenza should immediately see their doctor. Those who have not been vaccinated should seek medical care within one day of their illness so they can be given an anti-influenza drug, which is effective if given within the first two days of the illness.