Category FAQs Search : Health

Question: How to prevent seasonal influenza?

Answer: The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Immunity from vaccination wanes over time so annual vaccination is recommended to protect against influenza. Injected inactivated influenza vaccines are most commonly used throughout the world.

Among healthy adults, influenza vaccine provides protection, even when circulating viruses do not exactly match the vaccine viruses. However, among the elderly, influenza vaccination may be less effective in preventing illness but reduces severity of disease and incidence of complications and deaths. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, and for people who live with or care for the people at high risk.

WHO recommends annual vaccination for:

pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
children aged between 6 months to 5 years
elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years)
individuals with chronic medical conditions
health-care workers.
Influenza vaccine is most effective when circulating viruses are well-matched with viruses contained in vaccines. Due to the constant evolving nature of influenza viruses, the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) – a system of National Influenza Centres and WHO Collaborating Centres around the world – continuously monitors the influenza viruses circulating in humans and updates the composition of influenza vaccines twice a year.

For many years, WHO has updated its recommendation on the composition of the vaccine (trivalent) that targets the 3 most representative virus types in circulation (two subtypes of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus). Starting with the 2013–2014 northern hemisphere influenza season, a 4th component is recommended to support quadrivalent vaccine development. Quadrivalent vaccines include a 2nd influenza B virus in addition to the viruses in trivalent vaccines, and are expected to provide wider protection against influenza B virus infections. A number of inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines are available in injectable form. Live attenuated influenza vaccine is available as a nasal spray.

Pre-exposure or post-exposure prophylaxis with antivirals is possible but depends on several factors e.g. individual factors, type of exposure, and risk associated with the exposure.

Apart from vaccination and antiviral treatment, the public health management includes personal protective measures like:

Regular hand washing with proper drying of the hands
Good respiratory hygiene – covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, using tissues and disposing of them correctly
Early self-isolation of those feeling unwell, feverish and having other symptoms of influenza
Avoiding close contact with sick people
Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth

(Source: World Health Organization (WHO), 20 Feb 2020)

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