In the lead up to influenza (flu) season, last week the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), and Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC), joined forces to launch a national vaccination campaign. Dr. Abdullatif Al Khal, HMC’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Head of Infectious Diseases, is urging both healthcare workers and members of the community who haven’t yet received the flu vaccination to consider getting it.
“Receiving an influenza vaccine each year is the first and most important step in protecting yourself, and others, against the flu. We strongly recommend those most at risk of influenza, including young children under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with pre-existing and chronic medical conditions receive the vaccination,” said Dr. Al Khal.
As part of the ongoing national campaign, healthcare workers have been prioritized to receive the annual vaccination. Dr. Al Khal said healthcare workers have daily interactions with patients, many of who are vulnerable to the flu. He said while caregivers who become ill themselves might recover quickly, they can pass the infection on to patients, many of whom may have an increased susceptibility to complications from influenza.
Dr. Dina Imam, an ENT Specialist at HMC, said the flu season in Qatar usually begins around the end of October. She said the influenza vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses that research indicates are most likely to spread and cause illness among people during the upcoming flu season.
“Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine is reviewed each year and updated based on which influenza viruses are making people sick and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses. Influenza spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or having face-to-face contact. The virus can also spread when a person touches tiny droplets from a cough or sneeze and then touches their eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands,” said Dr. Imam.
She added that the best way to prevent the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated but said good health habits like covering your mouth and nose when you cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs.
Dr. Imam is also urging those with flu symptoms to not go to hospital. She said flu is highly infectious so it is important for those who are unwell to stay away from hospital to stop the spread of the virus. She added that those who are healthy can usually manage the symptoms of flu at home without seeing a doctor.
“If your symptoms are mild, you can usually recover at home. If possible, stay away from work, school, or other public places where you can pass the flu to others. Most people with the flu are able to fully recover at home by getting sufficient rest and drinking a lot of fluids. You can also take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat any aches and pains,” said Dr. Imam.
She said most people with flu are only contagious for the first few days, but says even after symptoms disappear it is important to avoid spreading the illness to others. In addition to getting the annual vaccination and practicing good hand hygiene, Dr. Imam recommends getting enough sleep every night and eating a healthy diet as strategies for preventing the flu. She says this is especially important for children, as their immune systems are less mature and they are more susceptible to respiratory illnesses like the flu.
“Eating a healthy diet, specifically foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges and other citrus fruits, kiwi, guava, and peppers, can help boost your immune system. If you have small children, make sure your child knows to use soap and warm water when washing their hands and limit your child’s contact with people who have the flu. Have your child cover his or her nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing,” added Dr. Imam.
For more information about influenza and where to get the vaccine for free in Qatar, visit www.stoptheflu.qa