Flu Vaccine

Living Well in Myanmar 

It's flu season in Myanmar -- time to get vaccinated

While the flu season has come to an end in the colder regions of the northern hemisphere, it has arrived in Southeast Asia with the onset of rainy season.  In the United States alone the flu is estimated to cause 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths per year.  While the annual disease burden in this country is unknown, Myanmar doctors clearly become much busier in the rainy season treating patients with flu-like symptoms.

For most people the flu makes you feel crumby for a few days to two weeks -- fever, weakness, headache, and bone pain are common symptoms.  But it can lead to more serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, or sinus infections.

Luckily we have protection against the flu in the form of an annual vaccine.  Infectious disease experts create a different vaccine each year that does its best to protect against the strains of virus that are most likely to occur.  In an average year it will protect against 80% of virus strains.  But of course you enjoy that benefit only if you make the effort to it get vaccinated!  And you must do it again every year.

The flu shot is an injection into the arm.  The side effects are possible soreness or swelling of your arm, and rarely a mild headache or a cough.  The vaccine itself is made of inactivated virus particles, so there is no chance of getting the flu from a vaccination. 

Children are particularly vulnerable to the flu.  They will need two doses of the vaccine approximately 28 days apart if it is the first time they are vaccinated.  Another high-risk group is pregnant women.  Research has taught us there is twice the risk of fetal death in women who get the flu while pregnant.  Finally, you should know that the elderly account for most of the annual deaths caused by flu-related complications.  Please speak with your loved-ones that are over 65 years old.  There are a limited number of reasons not to get vaccinated, and you can consult with your doctor to make sure you’re safe.  If you happen to be sick at time of your scheduled vaccination, wait until you’re better.

The flu vaccine is available in Yangon.  Unfortunately, at around 8000 kyat (8 USD) per dose, the vaccine remains out of reach of a large segment of the Myanmar population.  Because awareness and acceptance of the flu shot is slowly developing in Myanmar, most doctors don’t stock the vaccine.  Therefore it is a good idea to call your clinic ahead of time so they are ready for your visit.  Also, I recommend checking with your doctor that the cold-chain distribution network that delivered the vaccine to Myanmar is adequate.

Congratulations on taking a step toward a healthy rainy season!

gelsdorfMD@gmail.com  © Christoph Gelsdorf 2013