Health experts encourage Malaysians to take flu jab

Flu occurs all year round in Malaysia and occasionally causes outbreaks, some of which can be major

by ANIS HAZIM / pic by BERNAMA

FLU infection is bound to increase as travel and other sectors continue opening up and people mingle more freely, said the Immunise4Life technical committee chairman Prof Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail.

According to him, the flu practically vanished when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, however, he said that the flu virus is now back, while Malaysia and many other countries have been reporting flu cases in recent months.

“Many Malaysians often confuse the flu with the common cold or perceive the flu as a winter illness that only happens in temperate countries. Both notions are not correct.

“When this happens, most Malaysians would be somewhat defenceless. Most people are not vaccinated against the flu,” Zulkifli said.

Notably, he said that flu occurs all year round in Malaysia and occasionally causes outbreaks, some of which can be major.

“The flu is a serious health threat to high-risk groups such as pregnant women, young children, people with chronic health conditions and especially older persons,” he said.

Therefore, he urged all highrisk individuals, especially older persons to get an annual flu shot as soon as possible to reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalisation.

Malaysia reopened its borders on April 1, after more than two years of closure. More economic activities are expected to pick up as the nation transitions into the endemic phase.

As of Saturday, Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the number of new Covid-19 cases in Malaysia dropped to 14,692, with 99.46% in Categories 1 and 2.

He said 8,557 cases or 58.24% of the latest infections are in category one and 6,056 cases or 41.22% are in Category 2.

“There are 27 cases in Category 3, 19 in Category 4 and 33 in Category 5,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said 261 cases were still receiving treatment in the intensive care unit, with 153 cases requiring ventilators.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Influenza Working Group’s Flu and Older Person sub-committee chairman Prof Dr Tan Maw Pin said older persons are just as susceptible to the flu as they are to Covid-19.

“Their weakened immune system and declining lung function increase the likelihood of catching the flu, getting hospitalised and probably dying from the disease,” Tan said.

However, she said that many families are not even aware when their aged families have the flu as the disease tends to present with atypical symptoms in older people.

“These include dizziness that may result in falls and confusion or delirium with or without a fever. Rapid breathing reveals oxygen insufficiency and may contribute to dehydration.

“Without treatment, severe flu and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may set in. Potentially fatal complications are likely to follow, including pneumonia, inflammation of the brain and muscle tissues, and multi-organ failure,” she noted.

Meanwhile, she said that adults with both flu and Covid-19 had four times higher odds of invasive mechanical ventilation and double the risk of death, according to a report by The Lancet.

“Covid-19 booster shots and standard operating procedures continue to be vital. However, we seriously need to prioritise flu prevention for older persons as a highly vulnerable group starting now,” she added.

Concurrently, over 40% of Malaysians aged 60 and older are living with type two diabetes, said Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society president Prof Dr Chan Siew Phen.

“Persistently high blood glucose can suppress their immune system, increase their frequency and duration of flu infection, and put their lives at greater risk.

“The flu can make it harder to control their diabetes, thus causing blood glucose levels to rise. The flu may also reduce their appetite and food intake, causing blood glucose levels to fall,” said Chan. Moreover, she said that many

people with diabetes also have other comorbidities, such as high blood pressure and kidney disease which potentially heighten the likelihood of serious flu complications.

“People with diabetes, even when well-managed, are advised to make flu prevention an integral component of diabetes management,” she said.

Thus, Chan said that the annual flu shot will provide a welcomed boost to their efforts to care for their health each and every day.

The consultant endocrinologist also noted that those with heart disease are six times more likely to have a heart attack after coming down with the flu, and a stroke by up to eight times.

Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society founding member and advisor Prof Nathan Vytialingam said that the flu can have devastating consequences on older persons as well as their families.

“When aged parents are admitted into hospital, their children may have to bear the cost of treatment. Should recovery be slow and long, caregivers may need to take time off work. Both situations would create hardship for the families, especially those from the lower-income brackets,” said Nathan.

For older adults who are hospitalised or confined to prolonged bed rest, may suffer bed sores lose their muscle strength, develop irreversible functional decline, and lose their ability to perform simple daily tasks.

“Losing their independence and becoming a burden to their loved ones would leave them depressed and utterly deprived of the quality of life they deserve,” he concerned.

Fortunately, he said these can be avoided by making flu prevention a part of the healthy ageing journey and encouraging more people to support annual flu vaccination for the older generation.