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Influenza, the souvenir you don't want to bring home from your travels

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, December 13, 2019  /  03:58 pm
Influenza, the souvenir you don't want to bring home from your travels

Health professionals suggest people get influenza vaccinations once a year. (Shutterstock/Sherry Yates Young )

The festive season is upon us and, for many, traveling remains a popular way to spend the holidays.

Those planning to go abroad this season may want to get a flu shot prior to boarding the airplane.

Influenza, aka the flu, is commonly considered as a light illness, but the symptoms, such as sore throat, fever and headache, can actually ruin your holiday. In other cases, the influenza virus can lead to severe diseases, even death.

There are two types of influenza, namely seasonal flu and pandemic flu. The former happens in a certain period of time during winter, which is between October and April in Northern Hemisphere countries, such as the United States and Canada; and between April and September in Southern Hemisphere countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. In Indonesia, the virus can spread all year long as the country is located on the equator, but its prevalence slightly increases during the rainy season.

Meanwhile, pandemic influenza is a virus that spreads globally. According to World Health Organization data released in 2017, up to 650,000 deaths annually were associated with respiratory diseases from influenza.

Indonesia Influenza Foundation (IFF) head Cissy B Kartasasmita said during World Flu Day media gathering last month that travelers were more prone to the influenza virus as they had to spend time and interact with people from other places, including travelers from locations where influenza was commonly found.

Meanwhile, Iris Rengganis, an immunologist, said that places like airports and transit lounges required travelers to have both direct and indirect interactions with one another. Since flu is a contagious respiratory illness, the virus can spread through air once a person sneezes, coughs, or talks.

That being said, both Cissy and Iris recommended people get vaccinated prior to traveling.

According to the website of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health, travelers arriving for the hajj or umrah are required to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza. The vaccination is considered particularly important for the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions, such as those with cardiac, liver or hematological diseases, those with HIV/AIDS or those receiving chemotherapy or taking steroids.

Read also: The flu vaccine: A high-stakes gamble

Since the influenza virus is constantly mutating, Cissy explained that WHO collects data from around the globe to predict which strains would become more dominant, allowing pharmaceutical companies to produce the right vaccine. Therefore, it is suggested to get an influenza vaccine once a year.

With regard to getting an influenza vaccine for travelers, Iris recommended to get the shot at least two weeks prior to the departure date.

“The risk of infection has lingered since you started the journey,” said Iris, explaining that it would take about two weeks to build the antibody concentration.

Nevertheless, the vaccine cannot fully protect travelers from the influenza virus. Based on her experience with haj participants, Iris said those who had been vaccinated were still infected, but it was very mild.

Iris added that the vaccine could be effective by up to 95 percent for those who had good immune systems.

When asked about the price, Iris said that an influenza vaccine costs about Rp 200,000 (US$14.27) in state-run Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital (RSCM) in Central Jakarta. However, the price may vary depending on the hospital. (kes)

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