Expert weighs in on flu prevention, vaccines, misconceptions and building community immunity

With the colder weather looming, how to protect ourselves from the flu is more pressing than ever. l ANNA SHVETS/PEXELS

With the colder weather looming, how to protect ourselves from the flu is more pressing than ever. l ANNA SHVETS/PEXELS

Published May 6, 2024


The flu season is here. With the arrival of colder weather, the question of how to protect ourselves from the flu becomes more pressing than ever.

The flu, or influenza, is not just a bad cold; it can seriously affect anyone, leading to hospital stays and, in severe cases, it can be life-threatening.

Here's what you need to know about staying healthy this flu season.

To create effective flu prevention plans, we must understand what different people need and want. l POLINA TANKILEVITCH/PEXELS

Health experts agree that the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Each year, the vaccine is updated to counter the most common strains expected to spread.

Getting the flu vaccine is the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu. It takes about two weeks to become effective, so getting it before the flu season hits full swing is crucial.

Justine Lacy, a clinical executive at Profmed, highlights the importance of understanding the wide range of options we have to prevent the flu, from the traditional flu shots to newer methods, like taking supplements to boost our immune system.

Lacy stresses the need to take into account different people's preferences when coming up with strategies to prevent the flu.

"To create effective flu prevention plans, we must understand what different people need and want," she explained.

According to her, the flu vaccine is a key part of preventing the flu, but convincing everyone to get vaccinated is not easy. Lacy points out that negative views about vaccines can stop people from getting this effective form of protection.

A survey by Profmed among journalists found that 60% had been vaccinated against the flu and testified to its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the remaining 40% were worried about possible side effects of the flu vaccine.

Lacy believes that explaining how the flu vaccine works could change people's minds and encourage more people to get vaccinated.

However, she believed understanding how the flu vaccine works was crucial in dispelling misconceptions and encouraging uptake.

“Contrary to common belief, flu vaccines don't just provide protection against the annual flu strain. They also contribute to broader community immunity, reducing the overall prevalence of the virus,” said Lacy.

Lacy pointed out that even though some people might have mild side effects from the flu shot, it's usually just a sign that the vaccine is doing its job by kick-starting the immune system.

She added that the flu shot was one of the best ways to avoid getting the flu.

But it's not the only way.

There are proven methods to keep the flu at bay, like taking supplements that boost your immune system, eating healthily and making sure to keep things clean.

However, Lacy also warns us to be wary of so-called flu remedies that don't actually work. It's important to stick with what science has shown to be effective.

“One prevalent myth surrounding the flu is that it's no more severe than a common cold,” she said.

In reality, influenza can lead to serious complications like pneumonia, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the elderly and anyone with underlying health conditions.”

A strong immune system can also fend off the flu. This means eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

Reducing stress is another key factor, as stress can weaken the immune system.

Knowing the symptoms

Recognising flu symptoms early on can help you seek treatment promptly and prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.

If you think you have the flu, staying home and resting is crucial to your recovery and helps prevent the virus from spreading.

Additionally, the medical scheme noted targeted interventions, such as contacting high-risk members for flu vaccination every flu season, has proven effective in enhancing vaccine utilisation and promoting increased preventive care, said Lacy

“Ultimately, prevention remains the cornerstone of effective healthcare management,” added Lacy.

“By embracing evidence-based strategies like vaccination and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting the flu and mitigate its impact on yourself and your community.”

As flu season looms, Lacy urged all South Africans to empower themselves with knowledge and to take proactive steps to safeguard their health and well-being.