Do I really need the flu shot?

The South African economy loses more than R2 billion every year because of colds and flu, and the average person misses 4.5 days of school or work.

Although the symptoms of a cold and flu seem quite similar, they are not.

The flu is a viral infection that causes respiratory tract infections, while a cold just causes a runny nose, nasal congestion and a sore throat.

Perhaps most characteristic of flu is the sudden onset of symptoms – in the morning you feel fine but by lunchtime you’re in bed feeling quite sick and running a fever. 

The difference between a cold and flu

flu, colds, symptoms, infographic

The World Health Organization estimates between 250 000 and 500 000 deaths are caused annually by flu. 

Safeguard yourself and family from picking up the flu by practicing good personal hygiene and by getting a simple vaccination. 

Understanding the flu shot

Every year a new flu shot is formulated, as the flu virus mutates. “This is why we need a new vaccine every year,” explains Health24’s CyberDoc Heidi van Deventer. “We need to keep up with changing the flu vaccine.”

‘I had the flu shot but still got sick’

Sometimes it happens that you get the flu shot but still find yourself getting sick. “The virus that you have might not be the exact same version of the vaccine that you received,” explains Dr Van Deventer. “But it should give you some protection against becoming extremely ill.” 

Dr Van Deventer says the best time to schedule your flu shot is in April before the flu season starts. The vaccines are usually available towards the end of March. “You don’t need a prescription and can have it done at most pharmacies,” she adds. 

High-risk patients

If you fall into the category of pregnant women, the elderly, people who are seriously immune-compromised or children older than six months, then you should schedule some time to get the flu vaccine.

 “They are the more vulnerable groups in our population and their immune systems are not as strong as the rest of the population,” says Dr Van Deventer. “They are also prone to become severely ill when coming down with the flu and to develop serious complications such as pneumonia. I would also advise anyone working with children [teachers and daycare staff] and sick people [all health and admin personnel] to have the flu shot.”

Side effects

Although most people won’t experience any side effects, some people do. You may experience mild flu symptoms (runny nose, slight fever, headache and nausea) but it should pass within a few days. The area where the flu shot was given might also become inflamed and painful. 

Read more:

SEE: Clean hands can prevent flu

Flu shot during pregnancy protects newborns for 8 weeks

'Alternative' parents more likely to skip kids' flu shot

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