7 must-know Flu Truths for the 2021 season


Want to sail through the flu season, healthy and strong? You need to know the seven fundamental Flu Truths listed below - and share them! The healthier you and the people around you are, the lower your chances of catching 2021's flu strains.

How well do you understand the flu and each year's new flu vaccine? Do you know how the vaccine protects you against each year's new flu strains? Arm yourself against the 2021 flu season, and make 2021 your healthiest year yet! If you make protecting yourself against the flu a priority, you directly protect everyone that you interact with from catching the flu, from you.

Truth #1: Don't wait to vaccinate

"The most effective way to give your body extra power to fight off the flu or to protect yourself against its severe complications is to get a flu vaccine before the flu season starts," Dr Nematswerani concludes. "Flu vaccines are safe and proven to offer you a significant degree of protection against each year's prominent flu strains. And, if you do happen to get the flu, having had the vaccine will reduce the duration of your symptoms."

Don't wait to vaccinate. Head to your nearest clinic, GP or pharmacy in time to protect yourself and your family this season. This year's flu vaccine will likely be available from the end of March.

Truth #2: Antibiotics cannot cure the flu

It's critical to understand that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Flu is a viral infection, so antibiotics cannot be used to treat flu. Giving antibiotics for flu is both harmful to the patient and also worsens a serious, global problem - that of bacteria growing ever more resistant to the drugs. This incorrect, or overuse, of antibiotics spikes during flu season. One may need antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections (i.e. an infection that occurs at the same time or following the flu and that is actually caused by bacteria), but a medical doctor is best positioned to advise on when an antibiotic is required.

Truth #3: Viruses versus bacteria: Only viruses cause flu! Antibiotics only treat bacteria.
  • Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that can thrive in a variety of environments - from heat to extreme cold, or in the human body. They cause illnesses like Strep throat (from Streptococcus bacteria), tuberculosis and urinary tract infections - which antibiotics can treat. There are also good bacteria, like those found in the human gut, which are critical to keeping us healthy.
  • Viruses are far smaller than bacteria and need a living host to multiply as they use the host's own cells to assist them to reproduce. They cause illnesses like common colds, the flu (influenza), HIV and chicken pox, which antibiotics cannot treat.  
Truth #4: The flu vaccine will never give you the flu

The injected flu vaccine contains killed (inactivated) flu viruses, so it cannot give you the flu. The inactivated viruses simply enable your body to develop the antibodies needed to ward off influenza. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and a few people get a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, but other reactions are very rare.

It's possible, though, that you appear to catch the flu, after you get a flu shot. Why? Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health, offers three possible explanations:

  • You happen to catch the flu during the two-week window period

    It takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies after you've had a flu shot. If you're exposed to a flu virus shortly before or during this window period, you could still catch the flu. However, you won't suffer for as long or as badly as you would have, had you not had a flu shot.

  • The season's flu virus doesn't match the vaccine

    In some years, the influenza viruses used in the vaccine don't completely match the viruses circulating during the flu season. This could make your flu shot less effective, but it will still offer some protection.

  • You're actually suffering from other illnesses

    Many other illnesses like the common cold, produce symptoms that appear similar to the flu illness. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don't.

Truth #5: You need a yearly flu vaccine. Last year's vaccine is... so last year.

The body's immunity lessens over time, even within the year of the shot, and flu viruses are constantly adapting and changing. This means that last year's vaccine will not be effective against this year's flu.

New flu vaccines are released every year to try to keep up with changes to the new flu strains that are most prevalent that year. That's why you need a new vaccination each year. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of the flu season for that year. It is recommended that people vaccinate before the start of the flu season, as soon as the vaccine becomes available, usually at the end of March.

Truth #6: Pregnant women who get the flu vaccine protect themselves and their unborn babies

Getting a flu shot will help your baby. You should get the flu vaccine no matter what stage of pregnancy you are in. If you're pregnant and catch the flu, you could get even more ill than usual, which could be very unhealthy for your baby too. Having the flu vaccine can also protect your baby against the flu after they're born, and during the early months of their life (first 6 months).

"Because babies haven't had the time and exposure to develop strong immune systems, they are very prone to illness, so it's important that moms equip them with all the protection they can get," says Dr Deepak Patel, Principal Clinical Specialist at Discovery Vitality. "Moms are able to do this because their bodies develop the necessary flu antibodies, which are then shared with their babies through umbilical fluids and, after birth, through breast milk."

Truth #7: Vitamin C overdose? A healthy balanced diet is your best protection against flu

Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will keep them from getting the flu, but there is no evidence to conclusively prove this. "Taking any single vitamin supplement may not do much good because the balance between vitamins and minerals plays a big role in how well they work," says Terry Harris, Discovery Vitality's dietitian.

"Vitamin C may shorten the duration of a cold's symptoms but taking high doses of vitamin C has not been proven to prevent colds. Obtaining vitamins and minerals in their natural, or 'food-state' form is always best. That's because food offers the perfect package of a mix of different vitamins and minerals that work together to boost your health and immunity. Remember that excellent vegetable- and fruit-sources of vitamin C include peppers, broccoli, red cabbage, guavas, kiwi fruit, and oranges."
Read more about whether vitamins can help to keep winter ills at bay here

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme covers your flu shot

Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) will pay for the cost of one seasonal flu vaccine from the Screening and Prevention Benefit for members who are at a high risk of developing  flu complications and from the available day-to-day benefits for members who are not considered to be at higher risk.

Find out more about the criteria entry criteria and the screening and prevention benefits here.

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