Akshita Sharma, 26, developed an itchy throat and dry cough for no apparent reason last October. Within days, the coughing turned to wheezing that worsened as the weather got colder and dryer. Akshita was diagnosed with early stage bronchial asthma, a chronic disorder that makes the airways inflame and constrict, making breathing difficult.
“I’d never had symptoms before, but I’d watched my older sister struggle with asthma and was worried that like her, I’d wheeze my way through Diwali and the winter smog each year,” says Akshita.
But Diwali was a breeze last year. The internist she went to help manage her asthma suggested she get a flu shot to help Akshita’s bronchial airways survive the allergen and cold onslaught.
This week, she was back for her second dose at Max Hospital, Gurgaon. She was given a shot of Influvac, which is an inactivated influenza vaccine for people 5 years and older. “It’s a seasonal vaccine that was released a week ago to protect against the three dominant strains causing flu infection this year and this year’s vaccine protects against three influenza strains – influenza A H1N1 (swine flu), Influenza A H3N2, and Influenza B,” says Dr Susum Sharma, head, Preventive Health Programme, Max Healthcare.
The vaccine will keep Akshita safe from the flu for one year, unless there is an “antigen shift” and a new flu virus starts causing outbreaks. Influvac costs 650. While she was there, Akshita also opted for the HPV vaccine, which protects her against cervical cancer.
New research shows the vaccine also prevents throat cancers often caused by oral sex — a finding that applies to men as well as women, reported the medical journal, PLoS One. “This vaccine wasn’t available when I was young, so I decided to go for it now,” says the E-2 Block Vasant Kunj-resident.
Till a year ago, the flu vaccine was recommended only for people over 65 years, or to people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, renal failure, cancers, bronchitis, asthma or congestive heart failure. This year, the recommendation for use has been changed to include everyone over five years old. “Most healthy people are still under the impression that flu shots are just needed if there is a new flu in town,” says Dr Sharma.
Some, like the Tdap vaccine Td/Tdap that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis, are given to children but lose their effectiveness over time. “All vaccines do not protect you for life, so you need to get vaccinated even if it’s not a requirement for employment or travel,” says Dr Sharma.
Some shots can be lifesaving for people with diabetes which, according to the International Diabetes Federation, affected 50.8 million people in India in 2010. “People with diabetes have weakened immunity, so they need vaccinations against pneumonia and flu. Both these infections are highly prevalent in India,” says Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, FortisC-DOC Centre for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology.
Enough doctors are not recommending adult vaccination, largely because many do not know the preventive benefits of vaccines. “Most of these vaccines are manufactured in India, which makes them affordable and easily available, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t be taking full advantage of their benefits,” says Misra.