Empower yourself this flu season by knowing the right questions to ask your doctor about the flu vaccine and the flu. Understanding how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this year’s flu strains will make all the difference to staying as healthy as possible.
Questions to ask about the flu vaccine
Q: Is the vaccine totally safe?
A: Completely safe. Flu vaccines have been used to prevent flu infections since the 1950s. You may experience muscle ache and fever for a day or two after receiving a flu shot. This may be a side effect of your body's production of protective antibodies.
- If you are allergic to eggs: Some flu vaccines contain tiny amounts of egg proteins. If you have an egg allergy or sensitivity you may be able to have a flu vaccine but you might need to wait in the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes after vaccination in case of a reaction. There are also flu vaccines that don't contain egg proteins. Consult your doctor about options.
- If you had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. In this case, check with your doctor first, though. Some reactions might not be related to the vaccine.
Q: If I get the vaccine will it give me the flu?
A: No. The vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses which just help your system develop antibodies, so you can't get the flu from the vaccine itself. However, it's possible that you catch the flu - or seem to - even if you get a flu shot..
Q: Am I at high risk for contracting the flu – making the vaccine a priority for me?
A: Healthcare workers, pregnant women, children under five years old, the elderly (65 years and older) and HIV-infected people, adults with severely weakened immune systems or tuberculosis or chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disease and heart disease are at increased risk of being hospitalized from the flu. People at high risk are more likely to suffer from severe complications from the influenza virus. Pneumonia is the most common serious complication of influenza.
Q: Can I have the vaccine if I am pregnant?
A: Flu vaccines are safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Pregnant women who contract the flu are at increased risk of hospitalization and death, making getting the vaccine even more important.
Q: When should I have the vaccine?
A: To get the full benefits of the vaccine, you ideally want to get vaccinated before the flu season hits and the virus starts to spread. So, to maximise your immunity, get vaccinated during March or early April as the vaccine becomes available. You can get vaccinated at any time during the flu the season, but you up your risk of contracting flu if you delay getting the vaccine.
Q: Can I get the flu vaccine while I have the flu or after I have had it?
A flu vaccine can be safely given during a mild case of influenza infection. For moderate to severe cases it may be advised that you delay it for a few days until you get better. Remember that you need a well-functioning immune system for the vaccine to be effective. Please discuss this with your doctor.
Q: Should I vaccinate my kids against the flu?
Anyone aged 6 months or older can be vaccinated. Children between 6 months and 35 months may need two doses of a flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected. (Please check with your child's healthcare provider.)
Q: Should I facilitate vaccination for my elderly parents or relatives?
Yes, elderly persons (over 65 years old) are at high risk of developing flu related complications.
Questions to ask if you are sick and think you have the flu
Q: What are the flu’s symptoms?
A: Symptoms of flu commonly include fever, cough, a sore throat and body aches. It can also cause headache, fatigue, muscle pain, shivers, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Q: Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and I know that flu is viral, not bacterial. So, how will we determine whether I need antibiotics or not?
A: A combination of clinical examination and investigations (including X-rays, blood tests, a sputum test etc.) will guide your doctor in determining the nature of your illness and how to treat you. This process will also provide information on whether to exclude or diagnose flu-related complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infection, that may require treatment with antibiotics. It is very important not to take antibiotics if you have a viral infection.
Q: Do a high fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache mean I need antibiotics?
No. These are symptoms commonly experienced as part of the influenza (flu) infection, which is caused by virus. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections.
Q: How does my doctor know if I have bronchitis or pneumonia?
The doctor will examine you and take a history of the symptoms you present with. Based on these findings, they will then order necessary tests which include chest X-rays, blood tests, a sputum test etc.
Q: Does an ear infection mean I need antibiotics?
Some ear infections may resolve without the need for antibiotics but there may be an indication to treat these with antibiotics, depending on the severity of symptoms.
Q: Can I take vitamin C to help me to get over the flu?
A: Terry Harris, Discovery Vitality’s dietitian, explains: “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.”
Q: Which over-the-counter meds might help me through the flu?
A: Pain medication, decongestants and antihistamines.
Q: Are there anti-viral medications I can take?
A: These are only indicated for patients who are at very high-risk
of complications related to flu, and are available only when prescribed by your doctor.
Q: Can I make other people sick when I have a flu? If so, for how long?
A: After the virus enters the body, symptoms can begin anywhere between day one and four. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others. A person with flu may be contagious one day before symptoms appear and for three to seven days after the onset of symptoms. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, may be able to infect others for an even longer than seven days.
Q: How can I prevent others catching flu from me – especially children or old people I live with?
A: The flu is highly contagious, even before you started having symptoms. You can avoid spreading your infection to those you interact with by remembering that flu spreads through airborne droplets made when people talk, cough or sneeze – that travel up to two metres away and that carry the virus. So cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. Never sneeze into your hand and wash your hands right away if you do to prevent infecting others.
Most importantly, vaccinate against flu to minimize your chances of being sick and infecting those around you.
Q: Should I take sick leave? I'm quite busy and can't take much leave.
A: it’s up to you to prevent other people – especially those at high-risk of flu-related health complications and hospitalisation - from catching your flu. It is highly recommend that you stay home from work, school and public places when you are sick. You also need significant amounts of rest to cure a viral infection, so rest at home.
Q: Which flu-related symptoms are considered a medical emergency?
People experiencing certain warning signs should obtain medical care right away.
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Ribs pulling in with each breath
- Chest pain
- Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
- Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
- Not alert or interacting when awake
- Fever above 40°C
- Any fever in children younger than 12 weeks of age
- Fever or cough that improve but then return, or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
- Not urinating
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe weakness or unsteadiness
- Fever or cough that improve but then return, or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
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.
Being mindful entails seeking trusted sources and facts behind common assumptions and practices. This is especially important when it comes to medical issues. Read on to see if you have all your flu facts straight.
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