Doha, 7 February 2013:
With temperatures dropping and influenza cases on the rise, residents of Qatar are advised to visit their primary healthcare centers as soon as they can and obtain the influenza vaccine.
“It is best for everyone to get vaccinated to avoid getting sick and exposing one’s family, especially children and other high-risk persons, to the virus,” said Dr Abdullatif Al Khal, Head of Infectious Diseases Department at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). “We recommend that people obtain the vaccine as soon as possible during the cold months, which are usually over by April or May.”
Dr. Al Khal said they have noticed that the influenza virus, which is usually a winter virus, has been unusually active during summertime this year. “This winter there has been a noticeable increase in the number of influenza cases, and we are seeing more cases of A(H3N2) virus as compared to more A(H1N1) cases last year.”
Because the virus changes from year to year, the vaccine this year will also be slightly different from last year’s. “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,” Dr. Al Khal explained.
“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,” said Dr. Al Khal. “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.”
Persons not belonging to these high-risk groups can also ask for the vaccine from their primary health centers. 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 traveling during the winter season are advised to get vaccinated at least two weeks, and preferably one month, before they travel, especially if they are traveling to countries with known endemic diseases such as meningitis or malaria.
Dr. Al Khal mentioned that they have conducted a two weeks’ campaign to vaccinate clinical and support staff across HMC.
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 observe proper hygiene.
Influenza can be distinguished from other viral illnesses like the common cold, in that influenza is usually accompanied by fever, shaking, chills and body aches. It is also associated with coughing that may come a few days into the illness, and sometimes runny nose, sore throat, nausea and vomiting. The 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 one to two days of the illness.
“Influenza usually lasts for five days, but if it lasts longer than that, people should consult with their physician because sometimes influenza can result in another infection. Older people especially can develop bacterial infection or pneumonia. Most people who suffer from influenza are also still at risk even if they get better, and can still develop what is called secondary pneumonia or lung infection due to bacteria,” said Dr Al Khal.
Influenza Vaccines Are Safe and Important for Breastfeeding Women
Vaccination to protect against influenza is not only safe for breastfeeding women, but is also recommended, according to Dr. Mohammed Ilyas Khan, Clinical Associate and Certified Lactation Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Al Khor Hospital.
Dr. Khan said that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “breastfeeding is fully compatible with flu vaccination.”
"The CDC recommends influenza immunization for all persons six months of age or older. To protect infants and young children, it specifically recommends the flu vaccine for women who are breastfeeding and other household members and contacts of children less than five years of age,” said Robert M. Lawrence, MD, in Breastfeeding Medicine, the Official Journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, of which he is Senior Associate Editor. Dr Lawrence is Professor of Pediatric Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Arthur Eidelman, MD, President of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine also said in the same journal, “Protecting a breastfeeding mother against flu also reduces the risk of transmission to her infant and other young children in the household who are at especially high risk for influenza complications.” Flu vaccines are not recommended for children younger than six months, and antiviral medications are not recommended for infants under one year of age.
Dr. Khan explained that the best flu protection for infants is prevention. With the mother’s vaccination and breastfeeding, protective antibodies may be transferred through the breast milk, further reducing an infant's risk of infection.
Dr. Khan mentioned a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that reported on a study of flu vaccination in pregnant women, which showed it not only to be safe and effective in protecting pregnant women against influenza infection, but also safe for the baby. In fact, the researchers from the United States National Institutes of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that among pregnant women with influenza during pregnancy, the risk of fetal death was increased twofold.
Breastfeeding does not adversely affect a woman's immune response, and a breastfeeding mother can receive the influenza vaccine.
For more information, please contact:
Joan Pauline Acevedo at email@example.com
Corporate Communications Department
Hamad Medical Corporation
Tel. No.: +974 4439 5272
Fax No.: +974 4439 5002