What you need to know about flu

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WITH the island being on an Influenza Alert status as well as recent public concerns about influenza A, caused by the H1N1 virus, check out these frequently asked questions about flu which were taken from the Ministry of Health’s website.

Influenza A H1N1 is an acute respiratory infection and is one of a number of viruses that result in seasonal influenza in the island annually.


What is influenza?

Influenza or the “flu” is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs) that spreads easily from person to person.


How is influenza (flu) spread?

Influenza viruses spread mainly by coughing, sneezing and close contact. The viruses circulate worldwide and can affect anybody in any age group.


What are the symptoms of influenza?

Symptoms include fever/chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and runny or stuffy nose.

Unlike the common cold that is often mild and limited to sneezing, runny nose and sore throat, symptoms of the flu are usually worse.


When is the flu most active in Jamaica?

Every year, influenza activity in Jamaica often begins to increase in October to November, peaks between December to March, and can last as late as May. This period is called the “flu, season”.


Why is the flu serious?

Although the flu resolves on its own for most healthy individuals, the flu can lead to severe illnesses such as pneumonia and blood infections, and cause diarrhoea and seizures in children.

The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease.

Who are at high risk for flu?

Individuals at greater risk of dangerous complications from the flu are infants and young children, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.

Health care workers that are infected can spread the flu virus to their patients, family and community, even if they do not show symptoms of the flu.

How effective is influenza vaccination?

The flu vaccine provides protection against infections caused by specific strains of the influenza virus. Flu vaccination: Decreases the severity of influenza infections; minimises the spread of flu viruses to other individuals; can reduce or prevent flu illnesses, flu-related hospitalisations and doctors’ visits, as well as sick days from work or school.

The vaccine cannot prevent flu-like viral illnesses that are not covered by the vaccine, or other flu-like illnesses that mimic influenza.

It takes two weeks after vaccination to develop protection, and this protection lasts throughout the flu season.

Even when the strains in the vaccine do not exactly match the circulating strains, the vaccine may still provide some protection.


Who is the vaccine given to?

In Jamaica, flu vaccination is recommended for selected priority groups for the purpose of: Protecting at-risk individuals from infection and/or serious illness; maintaining the health of the workers in essential services; and preventing or minimising the spread of infection.

These priority groups include: Health care workers; pregnant women; children over six months of age with chronic illnesses; non-health front line workers such as the police, army, correctional services, customs and immigration officers; institutionalised individuals; the elderly over 65 years with chronic illnesses.


When should the flu vaccine be given?

Flu vaccination is recommended annually every flu season.


Where can the vaccine be obtained?

Individuals who are in the high-priority groups may obtain the vaccination free of cost from any public health centre or hospital.

Other members of the public may obtain the vaccine privately at a minimal cost.



Getting the flu can be serious for pregnant women, the elderly and children with chronic diseases.

Persons in high-risk groups that develop flu-like symptoms must go to see a doctor immediately.

The flu vaccine is available for people in high-risk groups at health centres and hospitals.

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