Chronic disease patients & Older persons

Chronic disease patients & Older persons

Many Malaysian adults live with one or more non-communicable diseases, such as, type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, chronic kidney disease and liver disease that are immunosuppressive. Such medical conditions make it much harder to fight and recover from a flu infection11. A host of adverse events can occur – the flu may worsen the pre-existing chronic disease (eg raising a diabetic patient’s blood glucose to dangerous levels) or bring on a heart attack or stroke11. We would have a perfect storm when the flu complications themselves set in. This explains why people with chronic diseases are likely to get hospitalised or die after a bout of flu11.

Those 65 years old or older are also particularly vulnerable to the flu. Many of them are living with non-communicable diseases. Their risk is further compounded by having immune systems that have been weakened by age11.

So, it is recommended that patients with chronic disease and older persons make annual flu vaccinations a part of their lifestyle11. The decision could make all the difference to their health and quality of life.


Help Your Asthmatic Child Stay Safe From Flu

Help Your Asthmatic Child Stay Safe From Flu

Breathe in, breathe out…repeat. It’s supposed to be effortless but it’s different for your child. You just know when that mild wheeze starts getting more intense, accompanied by coughing or difficulty breathing. So you immediately get the necessary medicines or rush him or her to the hospital.

You do all you can to protect him or her but when your child is not at home, he or she is exposed to various other triggers beyond your control, including the contagious flu (influenza) virus.1 Studies have shown that when people with asthma get the flu, it sets off a chain of inflammatory reactions which can lead to an asthma attack.2 What’s worse, your child has a higher risk of developing pneumonia after the flu compared to children without asthma.

Practice these tips to guard your child’s health:
1. Give your child the influenza vaccination – It is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu3 and reduces hospitalisation risk by 75%4.
2. Take medicines as prescribed – These are crucial to prevent irritation in the airways and asthma flare-ups.5
3. Have a healthy lifestyle – Eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep will support your child’s immune system.2

Hopefully you can now worry a little less knowing that your child is protected from within, too.


Influenza, A Real Threat To Young Children

Influenza, A Real Threat To Young Children

In their imaginary world, children could be superheroes fighting fearsome monsters. In real life, however, children are quite helpless against many threats to their health and well-being. Influenza is one of them. Worldwide, this disease is responsible for between 290,000 and 650,000 respiratory-related deaths annually1, many involving young children.


Younger Age, Higher Risk

Children are a high-risk group when it comes to influenza. While healthy individuals tend to experience mild to moderate symptoms2, young children may suffer severe flu.

This is shown in a study where children hospitalised from influenza were either admitted into intensive care (12%), developed respiratory failure (5%), had bacterial co-infection (2%), or even died (0.5%).3

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimates that every year, flu-related hospitalisations among children younger than five years ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the United States[4]. This could be because such young children have immature immune systems[1]; furthermore, those below six months are not old enough to be vaccinated.2

Children with pre-existing medical conditions have a higher likelihood of getting hospitalised for influenza. Of the 40% of children studied by Dawood, 18% had asthma, 15% (of those below two years) had been born prematurely, and 7% had developmental delay.5

However, this does not mean that other children are safe. A 25 year-long study of 1,665 healthy children found that influenza was associated with high death rates in otherwise healthy children aged below five years. Acute otitis media (painful middle ear infection) and lower respiratory tract disease were highest among children aged under two years old.6


Children Easily Catch & Spread Influenza

Influenza can spread in a couple of ways. If an infected person coughs or sneezes openly, influenza viruses are released into the air. When inhaled by someone else, these viruses make their way into the respiratory tract and start to replicate.7

Alternatively, the droplets may land on, or be transferred by touch to, items like toys, remote controls, door handles, bed sheets, blankets and so on. The viruses can live there for hours or days. In that time, anyone handling those contaminated objects (called fomites) will get the viruses on their hands and eventually into their mouths, nasal passages, and eyes where the viruses can enter the body.4

Seeing how children share toys and have close context with their school friends, siblings and other family members, it is no surprise that they can easily catch and spread the disease. In fact, they shed greater amounts of the virus for long periods than adults do, despite displaying symptomatic illnesses for a shorter time.8

All this often comes at their own and their families’ detriment. A study by Principi et al found that most children with influenza attended day-care centres or schools. They also had a higher likelihood of fever and croup (an infection of the upper airway characterised by a barking cough), and a longer school absence.9

Their parents and siblings also had more respiratory illnesses, needed more medical visits, missed more work or school days, and needed help at home to care for the ill children for a longer period of time.10


Vaccinate Children Against Influenza

It helps to teach children good hygiene and etiquette to reduce the risk of influenza infection, to some extent. These include hand washing, and staying away from friends who show signs of influenza.11

However, vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza.12 CDC recommends it for all children older than six months of age (as well as adults who care for children). Two doses of vaccine should be given to children aged six months to eight years while only one dose is required subsequently.13

nfluenza vaccination should be given annually4 to protect against new mutations of the viruses that are expected in the coming season.14

This will substantially reduce the risk of severe disease that may result in hospitalisation or serious complications. It will also help prevent the virus from spreading at home (particularly if you have a baby under six months old) or in school.15

While temperate countries experience influenza seasons in winter, we in Malaysia have it all year round. As such, you should get your child vaccinated as soon as possible, and repeat the process every year.

Learn more. Watch Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali speak about flu prevention for children at www.actoflove.ifl.my/juniors


How can flu trigger a heart attack?

How can flu trigger a heart attack?

Catching the flu can lead to hypoxia, or less oxygen in the blood, which could affect the heart muscle and trigger a heart attack.

Flu also comes with inflammation, which can cause plaque that has built up in the arteries to break off, leading to a heart attack.

Getting the annual flu shot is the best way to stay protected against flu and its potentially serious complications.


Getting Ready For That Big Vacation?

Getting Ready For That Big Vacation?

Here’s why you don’t want influenza to wreck your carefully-laid out plans

The holiday season is finally here! If you were having a busy year, then you certainly are looking forward to that big vacation you had planned meticulously for. After all, just like everyone else, you can’t wait to trade your formal shoes or heels for summer flip-flops or winter boots and spend some much needed time with your family in a relaxing environment.

So, your highly-anticipated day finally arrives and you’re all packed and ready to go. You board the plane excitedly, check into your hotel upon arrival and begin your first day of holiday, sight-seeing. Then, after completing that delicious dinner and wrapping it up with dessert, you happily head to bed ready for more adventures the next day.

Now, just imagine, the next morning you awake with a scratchy throat. As uncomfortable as it was, you go ahead with the day’s activities. Then to your utmost horror, by nightfall you have a raging fever which makes your teeth chatter. While you shiver under the covers, your head is pounding, your body aches and you just lay in bed without an ounce of energy.

Unfortunately, you can barely sleep due to that persistent cough and annoying fever. But since your fancy local tour package for the day is non-refundable, you can’t cancel it as the money would be wasted. So, your family goes ahead forlornly without you while you stay behind alone and sick in your hotel room.

Surely at this point, all you can think about is the horrible misery you are in, how you can’t stop coughing and why the fever continues to spike despite taking paracetamol and cough syrup. This has already turned into a classic traveller’s nightmare. Surely things can’t get any worse, you wonder. But it sure does.

While desperately hoping to get better, your health takes a downward spiral. You are now feeling seriously ill. You climb out of bed weakly and stumble into a taxi to see a doctor. Much to your dismay, the local doctor doesn’t speak your language well and you spend a frustrating 30 minutes explaining your symptoms. Finally, the doctor calmly concludes that you caught the insidious flu virus. So, you return to your hotel with a mini pharmacy in your bag.

It’s been 3 miserable days since you arrived at your holiday destination but you feel no better. Your fever is still raging and you feel extremely weak. Your family is now troubled by your deteriorating health and they rush you to the hospital. After enduring the hassle of paperwork for insurance claims, you are finally admitted and treated. So, you spend 2 days in hospital, feeling ill while watching endless foreign-language soap operas. Nothing is more depressing than that.

After a couple of days, your condition somewhat improves and you are discharged from the hospital. You feel much better but you only have a day or two left. So you spend the few precious hours sight-seeing with your family. Your holiday had turned into nothing more than an expensive tour of foreign pharmacies, clinics and a hospital. Still looking for the bright side of your holiday? You will probably feel fine on your return flight to Malaysia.

It’s not the common cold, it’s influenza (flu)

As we all know, travelling is a truly enjoyable activity. But nothing ruins a holiday more than falling sick and having to suffer through it. Yet, you would often see many people travelling with the flu as it’s too inconvenient and expensive to postpone flights or reschedule hotel and tour bookings. So, these people who are ill then spread the flu virus to those around them.

Influenza or flu is one of the most common infectious diseases among travellers1. It is caused by the notorious influenza (flu) virus and is not the same as the common cold. Those who are affected by the flu often have symptoms such as high fever, coughing, sneezing, and body aches2. To make matters worse, droplets from the cough or sneeze of the infected person can remain on solid surfaces for up to 48 hours3. So, you have a higher risk of catching the flu even before your holiday begins.

In tropical countries such as Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, the influenza virus circulates throughout the year, whereas in countries with four seasons, influenza usually peaks during the autumn and winter months1.

Don’t take the flu lightly

When you travel as a family, it is important to be mindful of your children or elderly parents’ health and wellbeing. They are particularly at risk of developing serious complications from the flu including pneumonia, ear infection, meningitis, or even death if not promptly treated4.

Children below 5 years may not have a fully developed immune system while an older person’s immunity weakens due to ageing5,6. Additionally, if your elderly parents suffer from existing health problems such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, the flu could make their health condition worse7. So, not only would your holiday be ruined by the flu, you also risk racking up huge medical bills from the medication and hospitalisation.

Stay protected with influenza vaccination

While it’s almost impossible to stay away from people with the flu during your travels, you can still ensure you are well protected against it. In fact, the first item in your pre-holiday to-do list should be to consider getting a flu vaccination for yourself and your family members.

Vaccination has been shown to be effective in reducing visits to the doctor by 34-44%8. Among children, it can reduce hospitalisation by a whopping 75%9. For older persons, flu vaccination reduces hospitalisation by 29% and death by 49%1. For those who are concerned about their health when returning to work, flu vaccination can reduce workdays lost due to the flu by 32-45%8.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America, everyone above the age of six months should receive their flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccination helps your body build immunity against the circulating strains of flu virus in that particular year. However, it is well-established that flu virus continuously mutates. Besides, different regions have different strains of flu virus. So, by getting an annual flu vaccination, you can be sure that your vaccine works effectively against the common virus and the mutated strains2.

You should also take the flu vaccine at least 2 weeks before your scheduled trip so that your body has sufficient time to develop the antibodies and fully respond to the invading flu virus. Some children between 6 months and 8 years may require 2 doses of the vaccine, 4 weeks apart, if they were never vaccinated before. So, speak to your paediatrician to ensure your children are properly vaccinated before your vacation begins11.

Lastly, basic personal hygiene can also help keep the flu at bay. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If it’s not available, use a hand sanitiser instead. Avoid unnecessarily touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how the flu virus can spread and infect you. You could also wipe and disinfect common items such as the food tray in the plane or even touch screen devices before using them3.

So, before saying your good-byes to neighbours and colleagues, remember that a vacation can only be as exciting as having great health. Stay protected from the flu with your influenza vaccination so that you can have a fun-filled time in your sun-and-sand getaway or winter escapade.


Flu Vaccination for Travellers & Pilgrims

Flu Vaccination for Travellers & Pilgrims

Flu is the most common vaccine-preventable health risk for business travellers, vacationers and pilgrims16. They can catch the bug while on an airplane or simply by being near infected persons in crowded places. Fortunately, travellers can prevent the flu from spoiling their trips by getting vaccinated at least 2 weeks before taking off (to allow sufficient time for the desired vaccine immunity to develop)17.

Here is a special note for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. It is very common for them to catch a respiratory tract infection (including the flu) while in the Holy City18. A study has even shown that more than 90% of Malaysians contracted at least 1 respiratory symptom during their pilgrimage19. This does not bode well, especially for the more elderly individuals or the many who also have a chronic disease.

In order to complete their religious obligations with peace of mind, pilgrims are advised to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the flu20.


People with Respiratory Conditions

People with Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory or lung conditions include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis12. Those who have these conditions need to be especially aware of risks stemming from the flu. Each year, about 17% of flu-related deaths are seen in people with chronic respiratory diseases13.

Asthma is the most common respiratory condition that affects a large number of children and adults14. For them, the flu is a serious threat, even if their asthma is mild or well-controlled by medication14. In both children and adults, respiratory viral infections are the number one trigger for asthma episodes15. Influenza can cause further inflammation to their already sensitive airways and lungs14. This worsens asthma symptoms and increase the likelihood of pneumonia or other acute respiratory diseases setting in14.

For people with lung conditions, each day could be a constant struggle. Breathe a little easier by making the annual flu vaccination a part of your personal healthcare regimen14.


The leading causes of disability linked to flu

The leading causes of disability linked to flu

The loss of the ability to perform two or more daily activities represents catastrophic functional decline. This can include losing the ability to get dressed, walk around, or bathe.

The six leading causes of catastrophic disability including strokes, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and influenza, ischemic heart disease, cancer and hip fracture, have all been linked to influenza illness.

Owing to the high risks older adults face from flu, prevention by getting the annual flu shot is the best strategy.


Why Are Seniors at Risk of Having Severe Flu?

Why Are Seniors at Risk of Having Severe Flu?

Elderly above the age of 65 are at greater risk of serious complications from flu compared to young and healthy adults, because human immune systems weaken with age.

Flu can be even more dangerous for elderly who have:6

• Asthma
• Diabetes
• Chronic lung disease
• Obesity issues
• Heart or liver or kidney problems
• An illness that causes them to take steroids or other medication like chemotherapy that weakens the immune system

Find out how flu can lead to dangerous health complications in the elderly:


Can wearing a mask protect you?

Can wearing a mask protect you?

A study showed that masks led to a more than threefold reduction in how much flu virus people sprayed into the air.

But sometimes you can even get the flu by touching a surface that has the virus on it, like elevator buttons or doorknobs, and then touching your mouth or nose. And to make matters worse, the flu virus can live for up to three days on those hard surfaces!

The best defense against flu starts with you! One of the most effective ways to protect yourself against flu and its serious complications is through annual flu vaccination but remember to practice good hygiene habits like handwashing too.