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Health urges public to get the flu vaccine as flu season hits



The National Department of Health has urged the public to take extra precautionary measures to protect themselves and their loved ones against respiratory infections, which are expected to increase over the winter season.

According to the department, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is currently at peak circulation in the country, while influenza also known as flu is starting to surge. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to circulate at low levels.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which monitors the circulation of respiratory viruses throughout the country, has notified the department that it is currently the peak season of RSV, which some can confuse for COVID-19 due to common symptoms. 

However, according to the department, RSV causes illness mainly in young children but may also contribute to respiratory disease in older people. 

“Influenza virus season usually follows RSV, and we are starting to see an increase in cases,” the statement read. 

“While most diseases caused by influenza, RSV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses are mild, they may cause severe illness and even death amongst the citizens around the country, particularly in individuals with conditions placing them at high risk of severe disease.” 

The flu season is expected to start in the next few weeks and the department is advising those at high risk of contracting the virus to get the flu vaccine to prevent severe health complications. 

Groups at high risk include the elderly who are over 65 years old, those with underlying illnesses such as heart and lung disease, people living with HIV and tuberculosis, as well as pregnant people. 

The flu vaccine is available in public clinics free of charge on a first come, first serve basis to people falling into the high-risk category, while private pharmacies also sell the vaccine. 

The flu virus spreads mainly from one person to another by respiratory droplets and co-infections with other respiratory viruses can occur. 

For this reason, people always need to cover their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze, stay at home when sick, not touch their face with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with others such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils.

Some common symptoms of RSV and flu include but are not limited to a runny nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing.

“Parents and caregivers are urged to take their children who experience difficulties with breathing, not drinking enough fluids and experience deteriorating symptoms to the nearest health facility or healthcare provider for medical attention without delay.” 

People infected with the flu are usually contagious for three to eight days. Preventative measures such as wearing masks and social distancing are recommended especially for those who are ill.

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