Once a global pandemic in 1918, influenza is now preventable with a jab of vaccination annually. Sharing on this preventable disease, Professor Zamberi Sekawi talks about what is influenza, its symptoms and how vaccination can help.
Prevention is better than cure
It was four years ago when Diong Chae Lian started taking care of her parents’ health as they got older. “My husband and I did an internet search on what we needed to do, specifically on elderly care.”
The 48-year-old discovered that vaccinations are especially important for the elderly, “However, my mom comes from a generation where she will wait for the doctor’s advice before proceeding. Hence, she was quite reluctant to the idea initially.”
Soon after, Diong disclosed that she had found out the reason why her aunt passed away. “And it was not due to anything complex, but from something that could be prevented. From there, I managed to convince my mom to allow us to take her for vaccinations.”
Ever since then, Diong and her family have been going for annual vaccinations, especially against influenza, “I always thought vaccinations were only for children, but when I looked into elderly care, I realised that adults need to be vaccinated too.”
What about influenza?
A common misconception usually arises when one thinks of the common cold as influenza (flu). According to chairman of the Malaysian Influenza Working Group and Professor in Medical Microbiology, Prof Zamberi Sekawi, while the symptoms are similar, it is severe when someone is infected by influenza.
“Influenza is more than just a common cold. With the common cold, we can get a mild runny nose, a little bit of cough and at times, fever. They can recover easily. However, with influenza, patients can get severe cough, fever, and feel lethargic,” shared Zamberi.
He also added that patients with progressed influenza can get pneumonia, which affects the lungs. “In this situation, hospitalisation comes in. Otherwise, the disease can destroy the lungs. What’s worse is when the patient gets affected by secondary bacterial infections, and the two infections can be deadly,” he cautioned.
Influenza poses a higher risk for young children and the elderly. While the middle-age group does have its severe risk, it is not as high as the two. “Those with underlying chronic diseases are also at risk. And when they get infected, it is often severe. The mortality rate is quite high for these particular groups.”
Speaking during the interview on the “Making Flu Prevention My New Normal” campaign organised by Immunise4Life, Zamberi advised each and everyone to not throw caution to the wind as taking the flu vaccinations can help prevent serious illnesses from arising.
“Prevention is better than falling sick and having to deal with it afterwards. Nonetheless, I am glad to see that the awareness of influenza has increased over the past years,” he said.
Zamberi shared that influenza vaccination should be taken annually, simply because the protection lasts for only one year. The strains of influenza viruses can mutate, hence flu vaccines are updated annually.
“What you have this year, may not work for next year. The thing about influenza, the antibody of one strain will not cover another,” Zamberi said, assuring that scientists and the World Health Organisation working on the vaccine, will update and release the vaccines regularly.
With the current global pandemic Covid-19 in the limelight, Zamberi said prevention for both infections go hand in hand in terms of staying clean, wearing a mask and washing our hands. “The only difference is that influenza has its vaccine, therefore it is important to note that we can prevent it.”
Recalling the 2009 influenza H1N1 (Swine Flu) which attacked Malaysia, Zamberi shared that a total of 15 percent Malaysian was infected. “Influenza is a common illness around the world. Study shows a total of 10 percent of the world’s population is infected on an annual basis.”
The history of influenza
Influenza, or in short, flu, first made its appearance in 1918. Known as the Spanish Flu, it infected one-third (about 500 million people) of the Earth’s population.
Originating from animals, influenza has a similar story to the current coronavirus. “From animals, it eventually infects the majority of humans. In the 20th century, during the Spanish flu, it killed an estimated 50 million around the world.”
The huge casualty was due to less developed healthcare system and much was still unknown about the virus at that time.
“Nevertheless, scientists are working hard on what is known as ‘universal influenza vaccine’ which covers all flu strains and provide longer protection,” Zamberi added during the interview.
National pledge campaign for flu prevention
“Making Flu Prevention My New Normal” is a national pledge campaign for influenza/flu prevention. It is spearheaded by Immunise4Life, an expert-driven community education initiative to promote immunisation for all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases, including flu. The campaign is organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Vaccination is Protection (VIP) and Malaysian Influenza Working Group (MIWG), and supported by Sanofi Pasteur.
The campaign is a national public health initiative to drive flu awareness and advocacy by encouraging Malaysians to pledge to take action towards flu prevention as an act of love for themselves and their loved ones, making a stand for a healthier, safer and better Malaysia — post Covid-19.
For more information and to show your support for this flu prevention cause, do visit www.actoflove.ifl.my.