One of the most common misconceptions that patients coming to me have is that the flu is the same as having the common cold. I get how they may have thought so but it is important that they - and you too - understand the difference.



Unlike the common cold, influenza which causes the flu presents with fever, chills, headache, generalized body ache and weakness. More importantly, there are over 3 to 5 million cases of severe episodes of influenza every year of which nearly 2.9 lakh to 6.5 lakh die. Yes, die. So, yes. Influenza is not a simple cold.

What is worse is that influenza can spread really easily when an infected person sneezes, releasing droplets containing the virus through the air up to a distance of six feet infecting people in close proximity. The time from infection to illness, known as the incubation period, is about 2 days, but can range from anywhere between one to four days. People with the flu are most contagious in the first 3 to 4 days after the illness begins. Most healthy people may not show symptoms but still end up being carriers while some develop the infection in varying grades with extremes of age and certain groups of individuals (obese, immunocompromised and those underlying diseases of the kidney, heart and lungs) being at highest risk.


Key personal protective measures include:

  1. regular hand washing, 
  2. covering mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing, 
  3. early self-isolation for those displaying symptoms and 
  4. avoiding regions with large crowds when infected.

This brings us to another key topic - are Influenza Vaccines effective?


The short answer, yes. A very important point to remember is that children younger than 6 months of age are the pediatric age group at highest risk of severe complications from Influenza but they are too young to get the Influenza vaccine. This is exactly why other members of the household should be vaccinated so that they can protect the child. The risk of getting influenza decreases for those who have been vaccinated though repeat doses are necessary as immunity acquired from vaccination wanes over time.

Why do we need repeat doses of the influenza vaccine?


Well, think of influenza as a sneaky virus who keeps changing his mask as the year goes by. The new masks will be more dangerous and the old vaccines may not be able to recognize them and thus fight them.

Thus, to combat this, the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) - a system of National Influenza Centres and WHO Collaborating Centres around the world – monitors influenza viruses across the world and updates the composition of influenza vaccines twice a year, based on 'the new mask' the virus dons.

The efforts they make is the reason the death toll from this easily transmittable disease is as low as it is today.

My advice - The influenza virus is present throughout the year especially in tropical climates like ours so contact your paediatrician or doctor regarding the need and the right vaccine for that particular season.

#IPromiseToStopFlu. You?

4 Comments

  1. I'm with you on getting the flu vax. Last year when I was in India, I told my mum she should get it as she got hit pretty badly by it. We all fell sick but I recovered quickly because I'd had the flu vax here whereas for my mum and sis, it took at least a week. As part of working in the health system, I get the flu vax each year and while I understand it doesn't prevent you from falling sick or catching another strand of the flu, it's still quite helpful

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    Replies
    1. you're absolutely right... it doesnt prevent you from getting a new strain of the virus but it is very helpful as part of herd immunity and lessening the symptoms too

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  2. Thanks for the good advice! I've always been afraid to get flu shots, because they are egg-based and eggs make me physically ill. I've heard there's a different kind available now, so will check into that. My husband gets the vaccine every year and we haven't had the flu in decades. Hope it lasts!

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So what do you think ?