Phuket launches offensive?

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The Australian government is so concerned about their death toll from the annual influenza epidemic that they have once again included a Phuket strain in the 2016 vaccine. This is in addition to the home grown Brisbane strain.

The Brisbane and Phuket strains of the virus contributed to the 25,000 spike in reported cases, explained the Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley. To combat the increase from 65,000 cases to 90,000 cases, Australians will have access to the upgraded vaccine through the National Immunization Program.

In Thailand, from Jan 1 to Feb 23 this year, the Department of Disease Control (DDC) reported 10,032 confirmed cases of the flu, with eight deaths. According to Thailand statistics, a total of 30,024 people throughout the country contracted Type A H1N1 influenza virus last year and 50 of them died. Influenza is an important disease, especially as many Thai people do not have much immunity to the seasonal influenza.

All these statistics were backed up by the World Health Organization (WHO) which reported that in tropical Asia, countries in Southern and South East Asia reported low influenza activity overall – except India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand where activity mainly due to A(H1N1)pdm09 virus in India and A(H3N2) virus in Lao PDR and Thailand continued to be reported.

In South Asia and Southeast Asia, a decrease in influenza activity was observed during August and September, and influenza A (H3N2) predominated in Cambodia, India, China, and Vietnam, with smaller numbers of influenza B viruses reported. In Thailand, influenza B viruses were more frequently reported in July and August, but influenza A (H3N2) and pH1N1 viruses also were identified during May 1–June 27, last year.

All these figures show that the influenza virus is present all year round, and the 2016 quadrivalent vaccine is planned to cover two A strains of influenza (California and Hong Kong) and two B strains of influenza (Brisbane and Phuket).

So, what can you do about avoiding a full-blown influenza infection this year? In one word – vaccinate! My hospital has published some of the important facts about Flu vaccination. While how well the flu vaccine works can vary, there are still many good reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.

Quite simply, flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children.

Flu vaccination may also make your illness milder if you do fall ill. A recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced young children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74 percent during flu seasons from 2010-2012. One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77 percent reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.

There are special vaccination instructions for children aged 6 months through to eight years of age as some children require two doses of influenza vaccine. Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated for the first time, as well as some who have been vaccinated previously, will need two doses. Your health care provider can tell you whether two doses are recommended for you.

Vaccination is so important that he Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) will construct the country’s first facility to make influenza vaccine in Saraburi’s Kaeng Khoi district, with production set to start in early 2018.

Following the Cabinet’s approval of the GPO project on Tuesday, Public Health Minister Rachata Rachatanavin said the facility would meet the World Health Organization’s manufacturing standards.

After undergoing lab tests and getting an okay from the Food and Drug Administration, the vaccines would be made available to public, he added. Initially, the facility is expected to produce 2 million doses per year, but that could rise to 10 million doses annually, or 60 million dosages in case of a pandemic.

In some quarters there is resistance to influenza immunization, but to be honest, I cannot understand why. Sure, there are risks involved with immunization, but those risks are very, very small compared to the risks in getting the flu.