In areas of temperate climates like Japan, “influenza” tends to make its appearance and spread during the winter, when temperature decreases and the air becomes dry.
But did you know that influenza is not a disease exclusive to the winter months, and that it is possible to contract it during any season, all year round? Actually, even in countries with an everlasting summer such as Singapore, there are people who get the flu at any time of the year.
It is because of this that, for this article, we have interviewed Doctor Keiichi Hayashi, from Raffles Japanese Clinic, about how to prevent influenza.
1.The different types of flu viruses
There are many different types of flu viruses and, among them, the Hong Kong A, the H1N1 (which caused an international epidemic in 2009) and the B type are currently the most popular. Besides these, there have been reports of cases of infection by the avian influenza in Asia. One of the characteristics of the flu virus is that its gene is able to acquire new properties and is continuously changing.
2.How can we prevent the flu?
Since this is in many cases an air-borne infection, I would like to stress the importance of washing your hands and gargling, especially during seasons when the cases of flu are more common. When we gargle in order to prevent influenza, the use of mouthwash such as Isodine may actually be counterproductive and damage the mucous membrane of the throat, so I recommend gargling with tap water or mineral water.
Having a good night sleep and eating fully nutritious meals are also ways to keep your immune system strong, which is another important factor in prevention. Those who smoke on a daily basis are especially at risk of contracting the disease and, once they fall ill, they have higher chances of their condition worsening, so they need to be careful.
Also, since there are many different types of influenza, there are people who contract it 2 or 3 times during the same year. The fact that you got it once does not mean that you do not have to worry about it anymore – it is still important to take prevention measures.
3.About the flu shot
In Singapore, calls are being made especially for children between 6 months and 5 years of age and the elderly, which are considered to be at higher risk, to get the flu shot more than once a year. Pregnant women are also advised to have this vaccine done. Babies cannot get this vaccine until they are older than 6 months old, but it is said that if their mother gets the shot while the baby is still in her womb, it will go through the placenta and help build up antibodies. Since the viruses used in the vaccines are already dead, there is no risk of contracting the disease from getting the shot, which means that even pregnant women can receive the vaccine without having to worry about any possible risks.
Getting the shot is also especially recommended to those who often travel abroad for work, those traveling to countries with a flu epidemic, and those with upcoming important events, such as school entrance examinations. Also, the flu shot does not show any effectiveness until 2 to 3 weeks after it is done, and it is said that the antibodies disappear between 4 to 6 months after, so we recommend to get it every year. There are people who, however, still contract the flu regardless of having had the vaccine done. However, even in this case, the vaccine is effective in preventing the disease from becoming especially severe.
4.What to do if you get the flu?
The main symptoms of influenza are chills, a fever and a general feeling of tiredness. There are also people who claim to have headaches or joint pain, and others develop a runny nose and a cough. These symptoms are similar to those of common colds, but when you feel symptoms that are different from your usual cold, or when there are already people who have contracted the flu in your surroundings, influenza becomes one of the first possibilities to consider.
Take a break from preschool, kindergarten, school or work as instructed. By the way, according to the Japanese “School Regulations for the Enforcement of Health Security,” which were revised in 2012, you would be instructed to take a break for at least 5 days since you developed symptoms, and 2 days after the fever disappears (in the case of children attending daycare or kindergarten, it would be 3 days after the fever disappears.) However, since it is said that our bodies keep excreting the viruses for one week after we first developed the symptoms, those who have a bad cough or are in contact with pregnant women should be especially careful.
Also, even if the fever goes away, your body will be still suffering from great damage. There are cases in which patients develop complications such as pneumonia or otitis media after influenza, so take special care. Even if you do not have fever anymore, do not strain yourself and focus on gradually regaining your strength.
5.About the flu medication
Probably most people have heard of “Tamiflu” or “Relenza,” both of which are medicines considered effective in the treatment of flue. However, their composition is different. On the one hand, there are people who claim to have felt sick as a side effect of “Tamiflu,” which is for internal use, and “Relenza” is characterized by the fact that it is an inhalant and not many people are used to this type of medicine, which makes it difficult to use. It is not strictly necessary to take “Tamiflu” or “Relenza” in order to recover from the flu, so depending on your symptoms and your condition, you should take the medicines prescribed to you by a doctor.
By the way, “Tamiflu” was at the center of some trouble in Japan a while back due to abnormal behavior by a patient after taking the medicine. However, this can sometimes occur during the early stages of the flu, and it cannot be said to have been necessarily caused by “Tamiflu.”
Also, there may be people who, before receiving a definitive diagnosis at the hospital, take antipyretics in order to lower the fever. Only, it is important to be careful in the case of children who are suspected to have the flu: “Acetaminophen” (Paracetamol, Tylenol) is considered safe for them to take, while other antipyretics can cause an influenza associated encephalopaty, which can result in long term disabilities and, in the worst cases, death.
Information provided by
Raffles Japanese Clinic
Doctor Hiroshi Nabeshima
Editor in chief http://singapore.keizai.biz/