25 April, 2017

Giving It Our Best Shot For The Herd

With the flu season fast approaching, a reminder about influenza, vaccination and the effect of HERD IMMUNITY…

What is the flu?

Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu”, is a highly contagious viral illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs, causing symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, coughing and a runny nose. Unlike the common cold, it is not simply a case of ‘the sniffles,’ the flu can be severe and in some cases life-threatening.

Why vaccinate against the flu?

Vaccination is the single most effective way to protect yourself against the flu and prevent its spread to others. Because flu viruses are continually mutating, the influenza vaccine must be updated each year to adequately target the latest circulating strains. This is why annual immunisation is highly recommended.

But vaccinating yourself and your children does more than just protect yourselves. It can also save the lives of others too, particularly by reducing spread to the most vulnerable in our community such as infants, pregnant women and immunocompromised people (those with a weakened immune system). This is what’s termed Herd Immunity.

Herd or Community Immunity, is when a significant proportion of the community is immunised against a contagious disease, thereby minimising the likelihood of an outbreak or pandemic. Even those who are unable to be vaccinated derive some protection passively thanks to those who are immunised.

The principle of herd immunity applies to many other contagious diseases such as measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease, whereby we rely upon the community as a whole to keep the risk of outbreaks to a minimum.

High levels of Herd immunity have the capacity to eradicate disease altogether. Organisms are only able to survive by passing from person to person. If there are only very few susceptible individuals, spread is prevented and the organism will disappear. An example of this is smallpox, which no longer exists thanks to past successful and prolonged vaccination. The key to herd immunity is to establish population vaccination of close to 100% and for this to be maintained until all cases of the disease have been eliminated.

Hopefully in our lifetime, through participation in vaccination, we too will witness the disappearance of many more diseases that the next generation will only ever consider a thing of the past.