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Yearly flu vaccine is best way to avoid ‘trangkaso season,’ say docs

Getting vaccinated against influenza every year is the best way to avoid the flu during the onset of the flu season, the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) advised on Wednesday.

At the launch of "Trangkaseason," the foundation's public health information campaign, PFV president Dr. Cecilia Montalban said that yearly flu shots ensure protection during peak times and any month of the year.

"In the Philippines as well as in other tropical countries, the flu could occur at any time of the year, but the peak season of flu is of course during the wet and the rainy months, which is from June to November. But it can occur at any time," she said.

Having an annual vaccination schedule also protects families from the flu virus wherever they are and whatever strain of influenza virus is present in the country they are in.

"There are some years, it depends on the surveillance, that they differ but as of now it's still the same. If you give it [vaccine] now to an OFW or a turista who goes to the States, pareho lang ang coverage," Montalban said.

Moreover, vaccinations save more money than having flu, subverting the common belief that sweating out influenza is cheaper than getting shots, the foundation said.

"If you look at the economics of it, it will turn out to be cheaper to have had your vaccination kasi once ka lang bibigyan ulit this year. But if you get sick, you'd be absent for three to five days," Montalban explained. "Now, you have already lost productivity.

"Sabihin na natin minimum wage earner ka, you earn P500 a day... Three, four days, you already lost P2,000. And then you buy your medicines, analgesic, cough syrup, decongestant, and you would also buy the anti-viral agent, which would cost P1,000 for only seven days. In short, you'd be spending so much more to treat a flu than to have had received a vaccine."

Cough etiquette

Apart from vaccination, the PFV is also promoting proper cough etiquette, as the virus is spread through droplets that can travel up to about 6 feet from the infected person.

"These droplets will drop onto the surfaces, onto the tables, into the linens. These droplets can also reach the other persons who are not sick with influenza," said PFV project development director Dr. Ning Villa.

"Cover your mouth with tissue or handkerchief, or cough into your sleeve. And of course, you throw the used tissues into the garbage bin, not leave it [just] anywhere," she advised.

Preventing the spread of droplets is important as they could infect other persons and allow the virus to spread in their body before symptoms manifest, especially when the infected is a child.

"Influenza, particularly in children, is actually contagious already even a day before it manifests. Up to five to seven days after the patient gets sick," said Philippine Pediatric Society vice president Dr. Sally Gatchalian.

Lethal consequences

Apart from severely inconveniencing patients, flu can also lead to death if the patient has previous illnesses such as heart or lung conditions that could be exacerbated by influenza.

"Yung mga high-risk, ito yung in danger of getting hospitalized, then maybe death from flu from the complications," Montalban said.

"Nationwide, a few of our medical societies are already aware of this. All the infectious disease societies of our country already do give vaccines to all patients."

The Philippine College of Chest Physicians, the Philippine College of Cardiology, nephrologists, and endocrinologists, among others, are also advocating for vaccinations due to the risks influenza poses on their patients.

Hand washing recommended, vaccine safety assured

Gatchalian said proper hand washing should still be practiced as basic protection against the flu and added that having a fever to go with influenza can actually help shake the virus off.

"Fever is actually good for the body because when you get sick—kailangan talaga lalagnatin ka 'cause that fever will actually be the one to stimulate your immune system," she said.

"Kami, mas natatakot kami 'pag may infection tapos walang fever. Mas nakakatakot 'yon cause it means that the patient is not reacting to the infection."

While face masks are highly recommended, Villa said people with good immune systems should not stop themselves from going out due to the influenza risk.

"For high risk, [if] you have some other medical conditions, [if] you are high risk of severe illness if you develop influenza, I think these are the people who should be avoiding crowded places," Villa said. "But for people who are quite healthy, your life should not stop."

Flu vaccines are available at any hospital and for senior citizens who are indigents, they may avail of their flu shots free of charge courtesy of PhilHealth.

"Mga seniors, they are all automatically [PhilHealth] members," said Montalban. "But you have to show proof that you are indigent." — BM, GMA News