Health experts: Prepare for flu, get vaccinated

Flu is in the air and people, especially those vulnerable to the disease, better get themselves vaccinated, several health experts said Wednesday.

Flu vaccination should prioritize the elderly, pregnant women, and patients with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart, liver, kidney and lung diseases, president of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccinations (PFV), Dr. Cecilia Montalban, said during the health forum dubbed “Trangkaseason”, held at the Dusit Thani Hotel.

It is also recommended for caregivers, health care workers and those whose jobs expose them to flu viruses, such as responders during disasters, Montalban said.

“We should get it every year because the virus varies and comes in different forms,” she said, explaining that strains of the flu virus differ each year.

She assured that flu shots are safe for pregnant women and can even prevent the onset of complications.

Dr. Luningning Villa, PFV director for project development, meanwhile said that flu infections occur anytime of the year but peak from June to November during the rainy season, “when we usually stay together in one place, allowing the virus to thrive longer”.

She noted that a person could contract the virus by inhaling droplets from the sneeze and cough of infected people or from surfaces they touched, such as tables and door knobs.

“Influenza is also airborne because (flu viruses) can remain suspended in the air,” she said, reminding that there are several ways to protect others from catching flu, such as by covering the nose and mouth with tissue, handkerchief or sleeves when sneezing, and disposing of soiled tissue properly.

Dr. Sally Gatchalian, vice president of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), for her part, noted that flu can be contagious, even a day after symptoms manifest.

“An ounce of prevention is better than (a pound of) cure,” Gatchalian said, noting that people better prepare for flu by getting vaccinated.

The vaccine is estimated to cost nearly PHP1,000 but is given by the health department for free to indigent senior citizens.

Based on data from the Department of Health’s National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, one in 100 Filipinos get sick of influenza every year.

According to the World Health Organization, annual flu epidemics worldwide are estimated to result in 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. (PNA)