With the annual flu season around the corner, a senior official at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is urging those with chronic medical conditions to get the influenza vaccine.
Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, deputy chief medical officer and the head of Infectious Diseases at HMC, recommends that people begin getting vaccinated as early as possible.
Last winter, Qatar witnessed one of the worst flu seasons with thousands of people diagnosed with influenza and many more presenting with influenza-like-illnesses. Many patients with chronic diseases were hospitalised across HMC’s network of hospitals due to flu. This winter the flu is predicted to be as widespread and as severe. Dr al-Khal says many of the flu cases last winter were due to the H1N1 virus, and this year’s vaccine is made to protect against this.
He noted that getting vaccinated early will help ensure protection before flu season begins. Flu vaccines are available in HMC outpatient clinics, primary health centres across the country, and in a number of private sector clinics and hospitals.
“Influenza, commonly known as the ‘flu’, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. The flu virus spreads from person to person through the inhalation of respiratory droplets from someone who is infected. It can also be spread through contact with a contaminated surface. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue,” explained Dr al-Khal. He added that some individuals may also experience nausea and vomiting.
Dr al-Khal says chronic medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, kidney and liver disease, and obesity can significantly increase the risk of influenza complications. In addition, he says pregnant women, older adults, and young children below the age of five years could also be at high risk of severe influenza.
According to him, complications of flu can include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, heart problems, and ear infections. He notes that pneumonia is the most serious complication and can be deadly.
Dr al-Khal adds that although the flu vaccine is the best defence against the flu, there are additional steps people can take to help protect themselves from the flu and other viruses. These steps include: washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water; using an alcohol-based sanitiser if soap and water are not available; avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth whenever possible; avoiding crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area; practising good health habits, including getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of fluids, eating a nutritious diet, and managing stress.
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