Seasonal Flu: Symptoms, Prevention, and Vaccine Recommendations
With the arrival of the upcoming flu season, many questions arise regarding the seasonal flu. When will it arrive? What are the symptoms? How is it transmitted? Can it be prevented? Who is the flu vaccine recommended for? In a recent circular titled “Prevention and control of influenza: recommendations for the 2023-2024 season,” the Ministry of Health aims to address these questions and provide guidance based on expert advice.
According to Claudio Cricelli, president of the Italian Society of General Medicine and Primary Care (Simmg), the flu is expected to arrive at the beginning of November. However, it takes at least two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide optimal protection. Therefore, it is advised to get vaccinated by mid-October. Each region is responsible for the distribution of flu vaccine doses, so it is essential to consult your family doctor, who can provide more information about availability and administration.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by viruses of the Orthomyxovirus genus. It mainly infects the airways, such as the nose, throat, and lungs, and spreads more actively during the cold season. According to the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), around 40,000 people lose their lives prematurely due to influenza each year in the European Union. The majority of deaths occur among those over 65 years old, especially individuals with chronic diseases. Hence, the flu vaccine is strongly recommended for these vulnerable groups.
Influenza can be transmitted directly through air droplets from coughs, sneezes, and close contact with infected individuals. It can also be transmitted indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces and subsequent contact with the hands, leading to transmission through the eyes, nose, or mouth. To prevent the flu, practicing good hygiene habits is crucial. This includes regular handwashing with soap and water, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, ventilating rooms regularly, and avoiding crowded places. Individuals affected by the flu should stay at home and wear a mask, especially when in contact with high-risk individuals.
The main symptoms of the flu include sudden fever, cough, and muscle pain. Other common symptoms may include headache, chills, sore throat, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Although the disease typically resolves in a few days, it can lead to serious complications, especially for elderly individuals and those with chronic diseases. This is why vaccination is highly recommended.
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent influenza and reduce complications. It is important to note that flu viruses change every year, requiring an annual vaccination. According to the 2023-24 season recommendations, the vaccine is recommended and provided free of charge to individuals aged 60 and over, pregnant women and those in the postpartum period, individuals in long-term care facilities, people with chronic diseases, healthy children between 6 months and 6 years old, blood donors, and specific categories of workers such as healthcare and social-healthcare personnel, police forces and firefighters, breeders, and those in contact with animals. Doctors may also advise other patients to get vaccinated based on their clinical judgment to minimize the risk of flu-related complications.
Getting vaccinated is particularly crucial for certain groups of people. Marco Falcone, a professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pisa and national secretary of the Italian Society of Infectious and Tropical Diseases (Simit), emphasizes the importance of vaccination for elderly individuals and those with chronic diseases. Infections with the influenza virus or other respiratory viruses like Sars-CoV-2 can worsen existing health conditions and delay the treatment of underlying diseases, potentially resulting in severe consequences. Protecting these vulnerable groups through vaccination is essential to minimize the risk of severe illness or complications.
In conclusion, the arrival of the seasonal flu raises various concerns and questions. However, with the help of experts and the Ministry of Health‘s recommendations, individuals can gain a better understanding of the flu and take steps to prevent its spread. Getting vaccinated, practicing good hygiene habits, and staying informed are essential in the fight against influenza.