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New influenza vaccine to provide life-saving protection against strains of flu virus

Influenza is disruptive and all too often deadly, making annual vaccination more important than we may think.

Influenza causes up to 650 000 deaths worldwide and over 11 000 deaths in South Africa each year.

There are four main viruses (two types of Influenza A viruses and two types of influenza B viruses) that cause seasonal influenza. These viruses evolve annually in an unpredictable manner which determines their virulence (the severity of illness that they cause) and circulation.

Severe illness caused by influenza affects between 3 and 5 million people worldwide, including over 45 000 South Africans each year. Almost 50% of affected South Africans require hospitalisation.

Influenza viruses circulate worldwide at different times of the year, with South Africa’s seasonal influenza usually occurring between May and September. Influenza spreads quickly and can affect anyone, regardless of their state of health or their age.

It can be particularly severe and complicated for people with chronic diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis (TB), diabetes and other metabolic disorders, as well as cardiac, pulmonary, renal, hepatic, neurological, haemoglobin and immunosuppressive disorders. Infants younger than two years of age, elderly people over 65, pregnant women and individuals who are morbidly obese are also at higher risk of developing severe and complicated influenza. This typically leads to hospitalisation and often death.

The most effective way to prevent influenza is through annual vaccination. Influenza vaccines are effective and provide immune protection against the viruses that cause influenza. In some people (e.g. the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems), the influenza vaccine may not be able to prevent influenza entirely, but it does reduce the severity of illness and the risk of complications, hospitalisation and death. Influenza vaccinations are recommended for everyone from the age of 6 months, especially for those who are at high risk for developing complicated influenza.

“Vaccines against influenza are rigorously tested for their ability to help the body prepare against seasonal influenza strains. This has been further reinforced by decades of broad use around the world in reducing influenza’s circulation and impact,” says Merilynn Steenkamp, Business Unit Head at Sanofi Pasteur in South Africa. Due to the mutation of the 4 viruses that cause seasonal influenza, the vaccines are adapted accordingly to optimise immunity against the specific virus strains each year guided by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Sanofi Pasteur offers a variety of flu vaccines that are at once adapted to the different needs of indicated populations and which respond to high demand around the world,” says Steenkamp. “Recent influenza seasons have been rather severe with high rates of infection, hospitalisation and even deaths. This appears to have coincided with a high level of influenza activity, dominated by the circulation of A/H3N2, which usually leads to increased mortality, particularly in the elderly and young children. Additionally, there was co-circulation of both influenza B viruses. Influenza is a serious and too-often risky infection, more so than many people believe,” concludes Steenkamp.

Brought to you in the interest of good health by Sanofi Pasteur.



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