Influenza: No Vaccine Now What?

March 16, 2020

Influenza vaccine is updated yearly some time in August and September. This is comforting to know as according to Columbia Asia Hospital - Setapak Consultant Internal Medicine Physician and Neurologist, Dr. Tan Wee Yong, the best way to prevent contracting influenza is to take the influenza vaccine yearly.

However, currently it has been a challenge to keep up with vaccine requests from the public in light of the climbing number of influenza cases in the country. So what does one do in the mean time? “You can boost your own immune system by drinking lots of water, and eating more fruits and vegetables,” says Dr Lee, “…but the most important and obvious thing to do is to strengthen your personal hygiene habits.”

It may seem like furious OCD behavior but this is a time when the cliché ‘better be safe than sorry’ can be stressed upon with conviction. “Wash basins are not available everywhere but you still have to have clean hands all the time if that is possible. So apart from applying the handwashing technique of scrubbing your palms, back of your palms, interlacing your fingers, scrubbing them clean -- make it a habit of carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer wherever you go and use it frequently,” advises Dr. Tan. He also calls for members of the public to start wearing a proper mask. “Imagine you are on board a train crammed with other passengers. You need to be aware of the risk you are taking every time you inhale in that environment.”

Influenza is a highly contagious disease transmitted by air droplets by people who talk, sneeze and cough. Did you know that an infected person can spread it to another person who is standing six feet away? That’s how easily this current situation can get out of hand.

Taking precautions goes both ways. As much as you don’t want to contract influenza from others, others do not want to contract it from you either. Regardless of whether one carries the influenza virus or not, if you need to cough or sneeze, there are ethics to be adhered to such as covering your mouth and turning your head away from people.

“Some people believe in air purifiers to keep influenza at bay but there has not been much evidence of that. The disease is spread by droplet from a person to a person, even in clean air surroundings,” says Dr Lee.

In some people, the risk of infection is much higher. Because of their low immunity than the average person, children under five and adults above 65 as well as pregnant women and those with chronic diseases may get a more serious infection. “Those in the high risk group may take a longer time to recover compared to others. They may also get a secondary infection which will require additional treatment including oxygen support and antibiotics,” says Dr Lee.

Photo Credit:

Dr. Tan Wee Yong
Consultant Internal Medicine Physician and Neurologist
Columbia Asia Hospital – Setapak
MD (UKM), RCP (UK), MMed (Internal Medicine) (Singapore), Fellowship in Neurology (Malaysia) (Australia), CMIA (NIOSH)
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This article first appeared in Nan Yang, 8 March 2020
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