Getting a Flu Shot in the Czech Republic

Although more serious than the common cold, influenza can be avoided if you arrange an annual vaccination

Before a single snowflake falls, most of us know it's winter from the precipitation dripping from our noses. We tend to think of colds and flus as a seasonal nuisance, something to endure with the bad weather.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE COMMON COLD AND INFLUENCE
The two illnesses have many similar symptoms, hence the misconception that they are alike in severity -- a misconception perpetuated by much of the medication sold to treat the symptoms.

The common cold is far milder and is caused by a number of viruses. The number of viruses and their tendency to mutate means that its practically impossible to immunize against the cold.

On the other hand, influenza, as most people know, is caused by three viruses -- Influenza virus A, B or C. It's the first two viruses that are responsible for illnesses.

Most medical professionals recommend vaccination as the best prevention. Because these viruses are retroviruses, they mutate, hence the necessity of receiving a vaccination every year. It's necessary to allow the body to develop immunity to the new strain.

It should be pointed out that this vaccine is just for the viruses that cause the flu. It's not a panacea against all winter illnesses, so you can still get the sniffles after your shot. However, you might not get the flu.

HEALTH RISKS OF THE FLU
While most of us consider that the worst the flu will bring is a fever, a cough, sore joints and lethargy, for some the flu poses considerable, even fatal complications.

According to Medicine.net, the following groups are at the highest risk of severe illness or developing secondary infections like pneumonia:

• People aged over 65

• People with chronic medical conditions

• Adults and children who suffer from chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, or immune systems disorders, including asthmatic children

• People who received regular medical follow-up examinations or hospitalization during the last year because of chronic metabolic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus or kidney failure

• Children and teenagers from six months to 18 years who are taking Aspirin to treat other viral infections and could possibly be at risk of Reye's syndrome

• Women in the third trimester of pregnancy or soon after childbirth

• Anyone who works closely with high-risk people such as medical professionals, people in retirement homes, child minders and teachers

SIDE EFFECTS
Many people are concerned about flu vaccines. Mostly, they worry about adverse side effects such as irritation at the injection site or the development of flu-like symptoms.

According to MedicineNet.com, less than one-third of vaccinated people experience soreness at the vaccination site.

As for the idea that vaccinations cause flu-like symptoms, the truth is that only between five percent and 10 percent of vaccinated people experience mild side effects, such as a headache or low-grade fever, and only for around 24 hours after getting the shot. (Children are most susceptible to these side effects.)

The same website rates the chances of developing the much more serious Guillain-Barré syndrome at one in a million.

WHO SHOULD AVOID THE VACCINE
Despite the low risk factor, some groups are advised not to get flu shots. They are:

• People with a history of allergic reactions to vaccines

• People suffering from feverish symptoms -- though you can get a shot if you have a cold

• Patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome

• People with an allergy to eggs or chicken products

The reason this last group is included on the list is that commercial flu vaccines are produced using fertilized chicken eggs, with the egg acting as a host for the vaccine, allowing it to replicate.

Strict vegans may also want to bear this in mind when considering a flu shot.

VACCINES ON THE CZECH MARKET
In the Czech Republic, the following flu vaccines are available:

• Agrippal (for adults and children over six months old)

• Begrivac (for adults and children over six months old)

• Fluad (for the over-65s)

• Fluarix

• Inflexal

• Influvac

• Optaflu

• Vaxigrip

WHEN TO GET VACCINATED
According to most doctors, the best time to get a flu shot is from September to November, in order to give the vaccine time to develop antibodies.

As I mentioned above, it's necessary to have a shot every year because there are always new strains of the flu going around.

Another reason is that the antibodies are said to weaken over the course of the year and require a boost.

WHERE TO GET A FLU SHOT
You can get the shot from your GP.

If he/she has no vaccine in stock you'll need to get a prescription then take the vaccine back to your GP to be immunized.

Children can also be immunized through the Hygienická stanice hlavního města Prahy (Public Health Office of Prague) [http://www.hygpraha.cz/index.php?sum=MTQ=].

Their website's Očkování ("Vaccination") section includes a link to an English-language Immunization Schedule.

It's best to check in advance if your health insurance company covers the cost of immunization.

If you aren't covered, the Vakciny.net website has a Czech-language list of flu vaccination costs.

The two types of vaccine listed are split vaccine (splittová vakcína) and sub-unit vaccine (subjednotková vakcína) while the "Orientační konečná cena pro pacienta" column shows the estimated final price and the "Orientační cena za jednu dávku" gives the estimated cost for one dose.

"BUT I'M ALREADY SICK..."
In which case, we're sorry but you'll just have to wait out the infection.

All those things we were told as kids still apply: get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, eat soup and take mild painkillers for your fever and aching muscles.

Neither antibiotics nor slivovice will help much.

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