The concern about the increasing swine flu (2009 H1N1 flu) infections in South Africa has prompted the Department of Health to follow suit, along with other countries, in considering a vaccination program for South Africans. The concern around the current 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic is that South Africa’s HIV positive citizens may be the most prone. Given the high HIV/AIDS infection rate in South Africa, this could have a detrimental effect on the adult population of the country.
Swine Flu in Schools and Children
Children are one of the main contributors to the spread of an infection like swine flu. Close contact in schools with children cramped into poorly ventilated classrooms, combined with a questionable level of hygiene typical of most children, may allow the swine flu virus to spread faster than would be expected in the general population. As a new school term resumes, the impact of swine flu spread among schoolchildren may be seen within a few weeks.
For these reasons, it is important for children with flu-like symptoms to stay at home and rest rather than going to school where they will likely infect others. Teachers and parents should be advised to teach their children about proper hygiene like regular washing of the hands and not sharing food or drinks with other kids. While this is a common and fairly harmless practice in most cases, with the current 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, caution is necessary.
Swine Flu Vaccinations for High Risk Groups
As many pharmaceutical companies across the globe have fast-tracked the development of a suitable vaccine for the swine flu, the question arises as to whom should be first vaccinated. With the initial hype of the swine flu having died down and first world countries like the United States and Australia having grabbed the first batches of the vaccine, South Africa now has acquired stocks of the swine flu vaccine. Vaccination through the public health facilities may be limited to those considered at risk but you can always visit a private doctor and get immunised.
In most scenarios, children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic conditions are usually considered to be high risk individuals and should be vaccinated first. However other groups like morbidly obese persons and those with poor immune functioning (like stressed and depressed persons) may also be considered as high risk groups.
In 2009, the Minister of Health put forward suggestions for South African companies and health institutions to develop their own vaccines for use in South Africa. The global demand for swine flu vaccines, as in any pandemic, means limited supply and great demand and developed countries are often able to purchase these vaccines at higher prices. However for the time being, there is available swine flu vaccine stock within South Africa. Ask your doctor about the seasonal flu (influenza) and swine flu vaccines.
What is the swine flu vaccine?
A simple and effective approach to making a vaccine is by injecting the virus into chicken eggs. After incubation, the virus would have multiplied sufficiently to create a stockpile for vaccine shots. Like most viral vaccines, the swine flu vaccine is prepared by two techniques :
- The proteins of the swine flu virus are ‘mixed’ with a harmless virus to make a PR8 virus. A vaccine may be made from this PR8 virus.
- A PR8 virus and H1N1 virus are used together to create a less harmless, combined virus which can be used for making vaccine shots.
By injecting a person with a vaccine, the body’s immune system creates its own natural defences to handle any future infection. Since the vaccine contains a harmless although similarly structured virus, the vaccine is usually not harmful to the person. In the event of a swine flu infection, a vaccinated person’s immune system will be pre-programmed to ‘fight off’ the virus thereby preventing or at least reduce the severity of the illness.
How do I get the swine flu vaccine?
The Department of Health along with the media will keep the public posted about any swine flu vaccination program and you can ask your doctor about the vaccine. Vaccination programs are usually controlled and monitored to ensure proper protocol is being followed. It is important to identify and avoid any scams promising swine flu ‘cures’ or illegal ‘vaccines’. These may include untested herbal products and mega doses of vitamins and minerals. Antivirals and a vaccine are the only effective options in treating or avoiding a swine flu infection.
Swine flu presents similar to other viral infections, like the seasonal flu and most healthy persons will only experience mild flu-like symptoms. Panic about the swine flu is therefore unnecessary and by living a healthy lifestyle and practising proper hygiene, most of us would not be at risk of swine flu complications. With the Soccer World Cup in 2010, scares of foreigners triggering a new swine flu outbreak is rife. Just maintain good hygiene, keep yourself healthy and if you think you are at risk, contact your doctor about getting immunised.