In the Philippines, the highest number of flu cases happen between June and November. The latest report from the Department of Health shows a 53% increase in cases of Influenza-like illness for August compared to July. With a total of 60,471 cases and 283 reported deaths from this year alone, it is critical for the general public to ensure protection against Influenza.
Aside from everyday preventive actions such as wearing masks, regular handwashing, routine disinfection, and social distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important protection against influenza viruses.
Influenza viruses can cause mild to severe illnesses, and a wide range of possible complications. We spoke to Dr. Gyneth Lourdes Bibera, country medical director of GSK Philippines, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the flu.
Q: How does the flu spread?
The flu is a very transmissible virus that spreads quickly, especially in crowded places. Infection occurs when you inhale droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes, or when you have physical contact with them. Touching surfaces infected with the virus may also cause flu to spread, although this occurs less often.
Once infected, people with the flu are contagious in the first three to four days, although children and those with weaker immune systems may transmit the virus for longer than seven days.
Q: What preventive measures can people take before they go back to in-person school or work, especially as we head into the middle of flu season?
According to the CDC, the first and most important step to reducing the risk of flu is by ensuring that you are up to date with your yearly flu vaccinations. Those who are vaccinated and end up getting the flu are less likely to experience severe symptoms.
Other important reminders are getting routine health check-ups and practicing basic hygiene. That includes social distancing, frequent hand washing, wearing masks, and disinfection of common living spaces.
Q: Can flu be fatal? Why is it important to get annual vaccinations against the flu?
In 2016, Influenza was ranked as the 5th largest cause of morbidity in the Philippines by the Department of Health. Complications from acquiring the virus range from moderate ones such as ear and sinus infections to life-threatening conditions such as Pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, and sepsis among others.
As a virus that constantly mutates, there are many strains of the flu, and new ones may pop up each year. This means that vaccines also need to be reformulated to address the strains that are likely to be the most common.
Q: How is the flu similar to COVID-19? How will we know which is which?
These diseases indeed have similar symptoms. Both can manifest through symptoms we’re familiar with, like fevers and chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, a runny nose, body aches, or vomiting and diarrhea. However, Flu and COVID-19 are two different viruses that require different treatments and different vaccines. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 will not protect you from the flu, and vice versa.
The best course of action to determine which is which, is to consult a doctor and obtain a proper diagnosis. Other than COVID-19, dangerous diseases like dengue and monkeypox have flu-like symptoms. Staying up to date with flu immunization is one way we can further eliminate anxiety.
Q: Local health units have now opened up the second COVID-19 booster to the public. Is there a recommended buffer period between getting the COVID-19 booster and the flu vaccine?
According to guidelines issued by the Department of Health, individuals who receive other vaccines are advised to wait for a 14-day interval before or after taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Proper health begins with immunization
By staying healthy and protected, we also help alleviate the burden on healthcare workers and medical resources who have been tirelessly working through the pandemic.
Not to mention, getting the flu vaccine costs a lot less than treatment for possible resulting complications. According to a study by Ipsos, a global leader in market research, flu vaccine prices in the Philippines range from PHP 500 to PHP1500. Meanwhile, the same study reveals that the cost of hospitalization from getting inflicted with the flu can range from PHP 10,000 to 30,000 per episode.
Being proactive with healthcare is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases. Contact your healthcare providers and set immunization appointments for yourself and your family.