It is estimated that millions of people around the world are affected by influenza each year. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an average of three to five million cases of severe illness, and between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths, occur each year due to seasonal influenza.

In New Zealand, influenza can attribute up to 500 deaths a year, unequally impacting Māori and Pacific people, older people and those living in deprived areas.

With New Zealand’s borders now open, there is a greater chance of catching the influenza this year, compared to during lock-down periods.

Contagious Flu

Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu” is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. When a person with flu coughs, sneezes or even talks, the virus travels through the air in droplets and can infect people nearby.

People with influenza are most likely to spread their flu in the first three to four days after feeling sick, however, some people may not show symptoms at all but still infect those around them.

Flu can cause mild to severe symptoms characterised by a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, sore throat and a runny nose.  But in older people, fever may be absent, with the only signs of influenza being confusion, shortness of breath and worsening of chronic health conditions.

The Influenza Vaccine

The flu vaccine is the best way to protect against and prevent contracting influenza.

In New Zealand, the flu vaccine is free for those 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and those at higher risk of flu complications or with certain medical conditions.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your eligibility for a free influenza vaccine.

Most people will recover from the flu within a few weeks, but the flu can be serious, especially for certain populations such as pregnant women, people with medical conditions and older adults. As people grow older, their body’s immune system function declines and becomes less effective at recognising and responding to pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria.

This places older people at an increased risk of contracting and developing flu and can also decrease the effectiveness of flu vaccinations. As such, influenza can be particularly serious for older adults, with a higher risk of hospitalisation, prolonged illness and even death.

Even after catching the flu, older people can experience long-term effects such as cognitive decline and deterioration in the ability to perform daily tasks which may impact their quality of life.

An option for the Elderly

For older people aged 65 years and older, an enhanced vaccine may be a worthwhile option. Influenza vaccines have been designed with the addition of an adjuvant which helps to create a stronger immune response to allow better protection against influenza viruses.

Adjuvanted vaccines not only provide an increased magnitude of immune response but may also offer benefits such as increased duration of response, and broadened immune response, compared to non-adjuvanted, standard-dose vaccines.

Currently, in New Zealand, the adjuvanted flu vaccine is not funded but is available for private purchase. Ask your healthcare professional if the adjuvanted influenza vaccine is right for you.

The influenza vaccine and adjuvanted influenza vaccines are Prescription Medicines – funding restrictions may apply for the standard influenza vaccine. The adjuvanted influenza vaccine is not funded. There are risks and benefits associated with influenza vaccines, please discuss with your healthcare professional. For consumer product information, please refer to The adjuvanted and standard egg influenza vaccines are distributed by CSL Seqirus, Auckland. NZ-FLU-23-0012. TAPS NP19031. A full reference list can be provided upon request.

Lisa Edgar is Medical Manager at CSL Seqirus (NZ) based in Auckland. The above article has been written for Indian Newslink.

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