Vaccination : Don’t take influenza as a common flu.
Adults need vaccinations
Vaccines, in most people’s impressions, are only needed for babies or children. Many people assume that since adult’s immune system and resistance has fully developed, there is no need to get any vaccines. Is this understanding correct?
Influenza or the common cold is one of the diseases that is widely overlooked by the public, of which it can be prevented by using vaccinations. In fact, many people mistakenly think of “influenza” equals “common cold” and misunderstand both are the same disease.
In fact, different stages of adult and gender requiring various vaccinations against different diseases. For example, adolescents should be vaccinated against hepatitis B vaccine, and women should be vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV vaccine), which is a cervical cancer vaccine. On the other hand, the elderly should be vaccinated with vaccine of herpes zoster (shingles). In addition, all adults should inject vaccines of influenza to avoid serious medical complications.
Differences between influenza and common cold / flu
Although the symptoms of the two diseases are almost the same, of which both are also caused by the infection of the viruses. The impacts of influenza are far greater than common cold or flu. Influenza can bring serious complications to high-risk groups, such as the elderly, sometimes causing deaths too.
The difference between influenza and the common cold is that the former is an epidemic pathogen. For some countries in the four seasons, it is indeed caused by seasonal changes. However, Malaysia is a country that is always humid and does not change seasons. With the emergence of viruses of influenza, it can easily be spread any time.
Regrettably, only a few people receive vaccinations against influenza at this moment.
The coverage of adult vaccinations in Malaysia is about 60 to 70%. Children are higher relatively. As such more educations are required for reaching out more adults.
High-risk groups such as the elderly or the sick, adults with diabetes, heart problems should pay more attention to health, and any caregivers who take care of them are all regarded as high-risk groups as well. These high-risk groups are exposed to infections such as influenza. After infected by influneza, any lacking of proper treatment can lead to serious consequences such as hospitalisation and even causing death.
Vaccination provides varying degrees of protection, especially those cases related to influenza, which accounts for 77%. Studies have also shown that adults who are vaccinated are more capable of fighting diseases.
Influenza is one of the common diseases in Malaysia. It may last for several months. As such many people are used to this kind of situation. Therefore, doctors must explain to public, the difference in between influenza and common cold or flu. The former can cause death. For example, H1NI influenza can directly or indirectly lead to death, thus it is a high-risk pathogen. To differentiate between influenza and common cold, an in-depth examination is required by medical personnel normally.
Symptoms of influenza and common cold will be overlapping or identical – dry cough, runny nose, high fever, difficulty of swallowing, headache, etc. If no detailed examination is done, it is easy to mistakenly think that a patient is merely suffering common cold.
Higher medical costs after infection
Although influenza is a preventable disease, studies have also shown that depending on which type of viruses, the standard vaccine may not able to prevent infection completely, when the involved virus is a “strong strain” or “mutant strain”. However, the chances of complications may be reduced or avoided. Preventing complications is especially important to those patients with chronic diseases.
It is undeniable that some people do not use vaccinations because of costs. However, they may not factor in their potential medical costs after infection of influenza, of which it can become even higher later. Therefore, government should formulate some systems to encourage adults to receive vaccinations in future.
When diagnosing infection of influenza, cholesterol must be examined first, following by heart and other chronic diseases. Doctors can assess patient’s immune level and ability to withstand infection.
Many people do not believe that influenza can cause deaths. Therefore, raising awareness is a very important step. Not only public, but also doctors too. In addition, influenza vaccination is not expensive. It should not be used as a reason for not being vaccinated, moreover there are few side effects.
It is recommended to be vaccinated annually
Adults’ immunity weakens with aging; hence it is necessary to be revaccinated for getting more comprehensive protections. At this stage, it is recommended that influenza vaccine to be injected every year, to ensure that the vaccine is compatible with prevailing viruses, thus obtaining the most comprehensive protections.
On year 2009, H1NI virus was a perfect example. Some people did not even know that they were infected. Fortunately, vaccine was available at that time, so the situation was not very bad then. Compared to SARS in year 2003, vaccines were not effective protecting humans against SARS virus. Besides that, many people did not have high awareness about vaccines. When they were infected by influenza, they just went to their family doctors for seeking antibiotics. Only the designated hospitals had the required vaccines, so infections can become explosive.
Since SARS happened in year 2003, we have found that there is no specific time limit for influenza happening in our country. It may occur throughout the entire year. Unlike other countries, which usually occur in the winter, whereby birds are the main vector of viruses.
Only available to newborns and women
The Ministry of Health does not provide free vaccines to all adults currently. It just offers vaccines to newborn babies and HPV vaccines to females. Obviously, this is not enough to protect all Malaysians. Therefore, everyone must be vaccinated according to their own circumstances and needs.
Influenza does not cause death directly, but its complications can cause deaths indirectly, for examples, lung disease and heart disease, since viruses usually infect lungs and heart.
Disease notification is also one of the prevention strategies. Every healthcare worker will immediately report a specific infectious disease such as dengue fever and AIDS. However, influenza is not an infectious disease that needs notification. Therefore, the Ministry of Health does not have the exact number of people infected by influenza. This infection is not classified as a communicable disease that requires notification, partly it is because people may be infected by influenza many times in their lives, yet they do not necessarily die due to such infections.
However, fortunately, after SARS epidemic in year 2003, the government had started a vigilance system whereby deaths caused by influenza must be reported.
Effective only when more than 70% of people are vaccinated.
Most people have no good idea about vaccinations for adults. This is due to the lack of attention and information in this area. In general, Southeast Asian countries do not give enough importance to the issue of adult vaccinations, and Malaysia is a country with low rate of adult vaccinations. All along, Malaysians are only focusing on vaccinating their children for avoiding various diseases, but these adults do not aware of their own risks on contracting infectious diseases.
In view of aging, lifestyle changes, immune system will also be weakening coupled with constant mutations of bacteria and viruses, eventually many adults are going to be infected.
Spend less by getting protections.
Vaccination is a practical strategy against infections and vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the influenza. Every year there are different viruses. The World Health Organization conducts assessments every year and forecasts types of vaccines. Adults should consult doctors about the details of vaccination to protect their health, because in some cases, influenza vaccine is also treated as the first line of defense on other diseases.
Influenza has the greatest impact on diabetes patients. Diabetes patients have unstable glycemic index, so it is difficult to diagnose these patients’ illnesses, including influenza and AIDS. Those with poor lung function, especially smokers, they are also vulnerable to infection of influenza.
Southeast Asians vaccinate less
It is an indisputable fact that vaccines for adults in Southeast Asian countries are rarely used. Regardless common people or doctors, they do not have strong awareness, unlike Australian doctors, whereby they must inject themselves with vaccines before they can become doctors.
Patients with chronic diseases have low resistance to influenza, especially heart disease. Once influenza erupts, these patients may not die of heart disease, but influenza. In addition, nowadays more chronic diseases are affecting younger populations, hence risks are getting higher in future.
There are many adult vaccines available on the market, and not every of them is required to be injected nevertheless. It is important to understand the details of vaccination before deciding to get one. An adult vaccination protects not only recipients, but also their family members as well. For example, when 80% of adults in a region are protected, then the remaining 20% will be indirectly protected because the surrounding people have formed a protection network. When influenza is raging, the number of infections can be greatly reduced.
If only a few people are vaccinated and cannot form a protection network, more people will be infected in the community. In general, to prevent influenza, a community should have 70% of people getting their vaccinations at least.
The influenza is mainly spread by two kinds of viruses. The vectors are animals. Once interactions of viruses happen, it will evolve into another type of viruses and then spread to others. For example, the occurrence of H1N1 epidemic on year 2009. Such severe epidemic is usually having a 10-year cycle.
The main challenge is not about the trend of influenza, rather it is whether vaccine has already covered our community widely. Influenza viruses do exist always, therefore it depends on whether people are vaccinated. Even if a person who has previously been infected by influenza, and vaccine cannot give 100% protection, it can still bring down the risk of complications.